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Newsday series leads state agency to conduct 35 fair housing investigations

The announcement of the housing investigations came as

The announcement of the housing investigations came as the State Senate prepared to hear testimony from real estate agents from brokerages named in Newsday's "Long Island Divided" series. Credit: Newsday / John Keating

The state agency that licenses real estate agents has launched nearly three dozen investigations stemming from Newsday’s series on housing bias on Long Island, officials said Wednesday.

The New York Department of State, which licenses agents, is examining "Newsday’s troubling allegations of housing discrimination practices by Long Island real estate agents and misconduct by a real estate school and its instructors," the department said in a news release. The 35 probes include 75 respondents, the agency's term for defendants, including 29 agents, 40 brokers, four instructors and two school coordinators, an agency spokeswoman said.

"The Department of State is committed to vigorously enforcing New York’s fair housing laws," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

The announcement about the scope of the Department of State’s investigations came as the State Senate prepared to hear testimony from real estate agents from brokerages named in Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" series, at an online hearing Thursday, starting at 10 a.m. The State Senate has issued 31 subpoenas to some of Long Island’s largest brokerages, including RE/MAX, Keller Williams and Realty Connect USA. The hearing can be viewed on the State Senate’s website.

In a separate effort, the state Division of Human Rights, which enforces anti-discrimination laws, said it has obtained more than $600,000 in damages for more than 100 people who were targets of housing discrimination across the state. The agency said the awards include a $175,000 settlement for a Brooklyn couple who were denied the right to purchase an apartment in a Williamsburg condominium because they are Jewish.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), who chairs the housing committee, said he expects state lawmakers to pass legislation that "will complement the efforts of our executive agencies and usher in much greater transparency and accountability among all participants in our housing markets."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered state agencies to conduct probes into housing discrimination in November, after the publication of Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" series, a three-year investigation into housing bias that found evidence that agents subjected minority homebuyers to widespread unequal treatment, steered buyers to neighborhoods based on race and in some cases required mortgage preapproval for Black homebuyers but not white ones. State agencies have made numerous changes in their approach to housing discrimination in the last year.

On Wednesday the Division of Human Rights kicked off a public information campaign to educate New Yorkers about their fair-housing rights. The campaign, "Unlocking Doors. Breaking Down Barriers," funded in part by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, includes social media advertising, billboards, newspaper advertisements, videos and educational events.

The human rights division also has created a hotline, 844-862-8703, where callers can file complaints and get information about fair-housing rights.

The division "seems to be very, very active in pushing forward their mission" in the last few months, said Ian Wilder, executive director of the Bohemia-based nonprofit Long Island Housing Services.

County, state and federal agencies, Wilder said, have "nowhere near the level of resources that are needed to in order to enforce the laws. When you only have so many people, you can only do so much work."

But, he said, state human rights officials "very much want to move forward with the resources they have available to them in order to enforce the law and make housing available on a fair basis to everyone."

The Department of State has issued new regulations requiring real estate agents and brokers to notify prospective buyers, sellers, renters and landlords about anti-bias laws.

Last month, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, which works with housing providers to construct and preserve affordable housing, started an initiative called Fair Housing Matters NY, an effort to analyze and address segregation and housing disparities across the state.

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