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Reps. Rice, Suozzi call for housing probe; HUD 'looking into it'

Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Thomas Suozzi

Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). Credit: Composite: Howard Schnapp

Reps. Kathleen Rice and Thomas Suozzi sent a joint letter Tuesday to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson urging his agency to “fully investigate” widespread evidence of unequal treatment of minorities by real estate agents on Long Island — as documented in a three-year Newsday investigation.

“We write to express serious concerns regarding the findings,” said Rice of Garden City and Suozzi of Glen Cove, requesting that HUD “investigate these discriminatory practices for violations of the Fair Housing Act.”

The Democratic lawmakers also called on Carson to help propose solutions.

HUD in a response said it is probing the patterns of unequal treatment on Long Island.

“Combating housing discrimination is at the forefront of our Department’s enforcement priorities,” a HUD spokesperson said in a statement. “Our Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is looking into the findings reported by Newsday.”

Rice and Suozzi in their letter also cited Newsday’s extensive reporting.

“Real estate agents associated with Long Island’s largest residential brokerage firms were found to have frequently steered white customers toward predominantly white neighborhoods, while directing minority buyers to more diverse neighborhoods,” they wrote. “The findings in this report suggest that these real estate agents have been perpetuating residential segregation and convey a disturbing pattern of housing discrimination throughout the region.”

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is intended to protect people against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex when they are seeking to buy, rent or finance a home. It was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Rice and Suozzi wrote that “Long Island remains one of the most racially segregated metropolitan regions of the United States,” and HUD must ensure the protections established under the Fair Housing Act are enforced.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), whose district includes part of Nassau County, said in a statement that Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” report “underscores the ugly truth of housing discrimination in America; de facto segregation remains the reality for minority homeownership in the United States.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in a statement said “the charges laid out in this recent report are very concerning.” He said he would work with his colleagues to ensure Long Island retains its vibrancy and diversity.

Long Island’s other Republican House member, Rep. Peter King of Seaford, has yet to respond with comment on Newsday’s findings.

Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney, in a statement Monday said that HUD, among other steps, “must end its harmful rollback of fair housing measures.”

The agency — under Carson, an appointee of Republican President Donald Trump — in August proposed a change to the “disparate impact” rule, a move that critics said would make it more difficult for people to bring forward complaints of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. HUD has said the proposed rule “has no impact on determinations of intentional discrimination.”

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