State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) heads one of the committees that...

State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) heads one of the committees that will hold hearings. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

 Three State Senate committees, including one with subpoena power, plan to call witnesses from the real estate industry and the state agencies that regulate them during a hearing on housing discrimination on Long Island next month.

The hearing follows a Newsday investigation that found widespread evidence of unequal treatment of would-be minority homebuyers on Long Island. It would be the first Senate hearing into housing discrimination in at least three decades.

The three committees — Housing, Construction and  Community Development; Consumer Protection; and Investigation and Government Operations, which has the power to subpoena witnesses — will hold the hearing in December.

Senators hope to take testimony that would produce reforms to be introduced in the next legislative session, said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers),

“This hearing will help the Senate Majority address this situation and these unfair housing practices,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

Senate Majority spokesman Mike Murphy confirmed that this hearing will include testimony from stakeholders, including representatives from real estate organizations. The Newsday investigation focused on the 12 largest firms and found evidence of unequal treatment by agents associated with 10 of them.

Top officials with the New York Department of State, which licenses real estate agents in New York, and the state Department of Human Rights, which investigates housing discrimination complaints, also could be called to testify, said Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), who's chairman of the Consumer Protections committee.

recommended readingUndercover investigation reveals evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents

Rossana Rosado is the secretary of state and Angela Fernandez is the commissioner of the Division of Human Rights.

“We are right now compiling that witness list so I don’t want to confirm anything, but that’s generally where we’ll want to go to get our witnesses,” Thomas said. “We are deadly serious about using the subpoena power to compel industry leaders to show up for this hearing if it comes to that.” 

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 12 at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.

Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), said Newsday’s investigation revealed a failure by the real estate industry and government to police how real estate agents treat potential homebuyers.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appears with Long Island Democrats...

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appears with Long Island Democrats at an event on the Long Beach boardwalk in February.   Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“I am committed to working with my partners in government to ensure they begin serious enforcement of the protection the law has put into place,” Gaughran said.

A public hearing specifically on housing discrimination has not occurred in the State Senate since 1983, the year the Senate’s library began cataloging hearing testimony.

A spokesman for Minority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport) didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

Reaction was positive from fair housing advocates and Long Island public officials to the committees holding hearings on Long Island.

“I’m glad public officials are taking the results of this far-reaching investigation seriously and exploring various educational, enforcement and policy solutions to the ongoing and systemic problem of racial discrimination in the local housing market,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center in Long Island City, who worked as a consultant on Newsday’s investigation.

Tracey Edwards, Long Island director of the NAACP, said Newsday turned a “much needed spotlight on the systemic issue, so it is good to see that all levels of government understand that they have a role to play short and long term.”

Newsday’s three-year investigation made use of undercover testers to record interactions with Long Island real estate agents. Twenty-five testers, black, white, Asian and Hispanic, met with agents and made similar housing requests.
The investigation found evidence of disparate treatment 49% of the time against African American testers, 39% of the time against Hispanic testers and 19% of the time against Asian testers.

Results from 86 paired tests showed evidence that Long Island’s dominant residential brokering firms frequently directed white customers toward areas with the highest white representations and minority buyers to more integrated neighborhoods.

“These are things many people in my community experience, yet they feel there is no recourse and it remains unrecorded,” said Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), deputy majority leader. “My hope is all the enforcement agencies at the county, state and federal level start to investigate racial steering … on a continuing basis. They should send secret shoppers out every year, as a matter of quality control.”

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