Presiding over a public hearing Thursday night into unequal treatment of Black and Hispanic homebuyers, Suffolk Legislator Samuel Gonzalez lamented that certain types of buyers can be cajoled into certain neighborhoods — and away from others.
"Example: you know, you’re looking to get a house, you’re looking up in Shirley or beyond Shirley or in Patchogue, and because you are Latina, they kind of direct you into Brentwood," he said, describing it as the "unfairness" of "being forced into an area where they think that they belong."
The hearing, attended by about 45 people via a Zoom video conference, was meant to elicit public comments, gathered for the task force created in the aftermath of a 2019 Newsday investigation showing unequal treatment, based on race, of prospective homebuyers.
The task force has been meeting regularly, said Derek Stein, a legislative aide, who said it was supposed to start its work in March but the coronavirus pandemic forced its postponement.
By the year’s end, the task force is to make public policy recommendations geared toward combating housing discrimination. Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) expects recommendations to be done by December as suggestions for "what’s going to actually help this county."
The Newsday investigation, called "Long Island Divided," found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of Black and Hispanic prospective homebuyers on Long Island, despite equivalent qualifications.
There is another meeting of the task force Wednesday at 1 p.m. Several panelists urged the convening of a second public hearing, a consensus Gonzalez agreed with.
Frank Schellace praised Newsday’s series but said the paper should give more publicity to what the task force is doing in reaction to the series. The series has been written about in Newsday over 100 times since November 2019.
"I think it’s incumbent upon your paper to give more publicity, or more attention, to what is going on here, which is this task force," he said.
Gonzalez invited the task force's dozen or so members to submit ideas for inclusion in a final slate of suggestions to the county.
"It can be 10 recommendations," he said. "It can be 15 recommendations."
One of the speakers, Marcus Duffin, said: "I’m looking at a house, and I had an experience with a real estate agent who does not want to negotiate — not that he said that. But me and my wife would put an offer in and there will be no response. It would be, 'the house is not for sale,' or it would be, 'we already have contract's out,' and it’s still listed, so it's nothing that's indicating that it is pending a sale."
Dawn Lott, executive director for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, who was at the hearing, told him: "Marcus, please call our office … and speak to an investigator."
Pilar Moya, executive director of the Greenlawn-based Housing Help Inc., asked that notices, as well as interpretation services, be available in other languages, particularly Spanish.
Kabir Javaid, a local real estate agent and landlord in Suffolk County, said that below-market-rate housing, particularly for people coming from shelters, is subject to "over-inspection" — sometimes by the town, county and a social services agency.
"I truly believe that over-inspection causes a lot of landlords to stay away from affordable housing and it discourages affordable housing," he said.
Also, public parks aren’t equitably accessible, Javaid said.
"A handful of rich individuals get to enjoy that piece of property," he said. "We want fair access to these parks that are in high-end neighborhoods."
He lamented that fields for soccer and cricket aren’t available, particularly for those sports popular among new Long Islanders from South Asian countries.
"They like to play sports too, and, same thing with the Hispanic, the South American community," Javaid said. "They love playing soccer."
Only a few members of the public testified, despite a sign-up sheet Gonzalez held up during the meeting with more would-be speakers.
"The cat either got their tongue," he said, adding later: "They got a little bit tongue-tied or nervous or scared."