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Nassau agency takes steps to battle housing discrimination

Nassau IDA member Timothy Williams suggested the measures

Nassau IDA member Timothy Williams suggested the measures being taken by the board, which grants tax breaks. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency has added information to its website about how prospective homeowners and renters may file a discrimination complaint involving housing built with IDA tax breaks.

The new page states the agency “does business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law. Anyone who feels he or she has been discriminated against may file a complaint” with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the county Human Rights Commission. Telephone numbers and website addresses for both are provided.

IDA CEO Harry Coghlan said the information was posted recently. It was suggested last month by IDA board secretary Timothy Williams in response to Newsday’s three-year “Long Island Divided” investigation, which found evidence of unequal treatment toward minority home buyers and potential housing discrimination.

Coghlan said Thursday, “We wanted to make sure we provided some resources or direction to resources in the event somebody is being met with bias in their housing search.”

Last month, IDA board members expressed concern that developers and real estate agents may not be abiding by fair housing and equal housing opportunity laws.

Among Long Island's eight IDAs, Nassau is the first to use its website to offer instructions on filing a housing discrimination complaint based on a review of agency websites on Friday.

IDAs have encouraged the construction of thousands of apartments near Long Island Rail Road stations and assisted-living facilities by granting breaks on sales, mortgage recording and property taxes over 10 or more years.

Recipients of Nassau IDA aid are told as part of their application for tax breaks that housing discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated. They are asked annually to certify that they are following all IDA regulations and risk losing tax breaks if found to be in default.

Williams, who works as a banker and has a license to sell real estate, asked Thursday that representatives of the Long Island Board of Realtors be invited to a forthcoming IDA meeting to answer questions publicly.

“We can have a conversation with them about housing discrimination and what they are doing,” said Williams, who is black and last month told the IDA board about the bias his family has encountered.

IDA board chairman Richard Kessel said an invitation will be issued to the Realtors’ board. “That’s a good idea,” he said.

The Newsday series, published over two days last month, has sparked investigations by the state and proposed legislation in Congress, the state Capitol and both county halls.

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