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Rice, others seek federal probe of reports of LI housing discrimination

Rep. Kathleen Rice at Village Green Park in

Rep. Kathleen Rice at Village Green Park in Great Neck on March 31. Credit: Barry Sloan

ALBANY — More than a dozen Democratic members of Congress on Friday called on the federal Department of Justice to investigate reports of housing discrimination that were part of Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” report.

“Newsday's investigative reporting exposed pervasive housing discrimination against minority home buyers across Long Island,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City). “This is not only deeply disturbing and morally reprehensible — it's also completely illegal. Clearly, the protections put in place under the Fair Housing Act are not being adequately enforced. And that has to change, not just on Long Island, but across the country.”

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn) warned that if the Republican Trump administration doesn’t investigate, it “would be turning a blind eye to residential segregation and sending a message that we don’t take our Fair Housing laws seriously.”

Their letter was signed by 16 Congress members and was sent to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department as well as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

There was no immediate comment from the federal departments.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has a housing and civil enforcement section, which files lawsuits to enforce the Fair Housing Act, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, disability and familial status. The law also authorizes the Department of Justice to bring lawsuits when investigations yield evidence of a “pattern or practice” of illegal housing discrimination.

Newsday’s three-year investigation made use of undercover paired testing, in which equally qualified testers of different races meet with the same real estate agent to see if there’s disparate treatment. Eighty-six tests were done. In 40 percent of the tests, the fair housing experts Newsday consulted agreed that evidence suggested that brokers subjected minority testers to disparate treatment when compared with white testers. Video and audio recordings made during those 34 tests were posted on Newsday.com as part of an online presentation of the investigation, as were maps of listings the agents provided to testers when relevant.

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