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Rice, Suozzi to seek HUD probe of unequal treatment in housing

On Monday, following Newsday's three-year investigation of discrimination by real estate agents across Long Island, Suffolk County Legis. and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) reacted to its findings.  (Credit: Newsday)

U.S. Reps. Kathleen Rice and Thomas Suozzi will call on U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to investigate evidence of unequal treatment of minorities by real estate agents on Long Island — as reported in an extensive Newsday investigation, the Democratic lawmakers’ offices said Monday.

Rice of Garden City and Suozzi of Glen Cove are drafting a letter to Carson, their offices said. The letter may be sent as early as Tuesday.

Rice in a statement noted “pervasive housing discrimination against minority home buyers” across the Island, as reported by Newsday.

“This is not only deeply disturbing and morally reprehensible — it’s also completely illegal,” she said. “Clearly, the protections put in place under the Fair Housing Act are not being adequately enforced. And that has to change.”

In a three-year investigation that included paired testing of Long Island real estate agencies, Newsday found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential home buyers and minority communities on Long Island.

HUD must end its "harmful rollback of fair housing measures," probe Newsday’s findings and partner with state and local officials to strengthen protections and increase accountability, Rice said.

Suozzi has reached out to local officials, his office said Monday. The congressman in a statement called Long Island a desirable place to live but also a segregated one.

“Discrimination and prejudice against minorities is real,” Suozzi said, “and it is our job to ensure that everyone is treated with respect, dignity and professionalism, not only during the home buying process, but in all aspects of life.”

Representatives for HUD and Carson, an appointee of Republican President Donald Trump, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Other state and local officials also responded to the Newsday report:

  •  A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M Cuomo said his administration “takes housing discrimination very seriously and this governor has enacted more protections against it than any other governor in history.” Senior Adviser Rich Azzopardi also said, “We are reviewing this report, but make no mistake: Every complaint received is thoroughly investigated and we urge any New Yorker who believes they have been the victim of housing discrimination to contact us immediately.”
  • Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Monday she had directed the county attorney "to explore proactive enforcement action in order to enhance compliance with our County’s Open Housing Law." Curran also said she has directed members of her administration to work with the Long Island Board of Realtors "to assess and improve" its training programs. "We will not accept unequal treatment of our residents in Nassau County. My Administration will continue to promote, implement, and enforce fair and equitable housing policies," Curran said. 
  • Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the minority leader, said his caucus would press the Curran administration to immediately intensify enforcement of the county’s open housing laws through investigations and litigation against real estate agents who may be engaged in illegal and discriminatory practices. "We believe the county has the legal authority and responsibility to take decisive action and finally break this appalling cycle of housing discrimination," he said. 
  • Nassau Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said: "Discrimination of any kind cannot and will not be tolerated anywhere in Nassau County. One of our greatest strengths is our diversity. Home buyers should be free to purchase a home in the community of their choice. The laws prohibiting discrimination in housing must be enforced at all levels of government." 
  • Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the “results of the Newsday investigation are disturbing and unacceptable. We must come together as a region to develop and implement strategies that will effectively address housing discrimination on Long Island.”
  • Suffolk Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), the presiding officer, said he was considering creating an ad hoc committee to examine this discrimination “because it’s alarming, disgusting and something has to be done.” Gregory said he also wants to consider ways to create funding for paired testing. “It’s almost 2020 and we’re still going through it. It’s hurtful and something has to be done,” Gregory said.
  • Suffolk Minority Leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), said, "From what I've read so far, it's horrifying. It sounds to me that at the very least, educational standards need to be improved. Discriminatory practices should have no place in our society.”
  • U.S. Sen. Kirtsen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, “This investigation brought to light what too many people of color in our state know already — that discrimination is real and targeted, and rears its head in every aspect of their lives. We have to do the hard work of breaking down institutional racism, and I remain committed to this work.” 

With Rachelle Blidner, Yancey Roy and Michael Gormley 

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