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Public input sought for Suffolk virtual hearing on unfair housing

A Suffolk task force will host a virtual

A Suffolk task force will host a virtual hearing Thursday night, the latest government effort to address discriminatory housing practices on Long Island uncovered by Newsday's 2019 investigative series, "Long Island Divided." Credit: Newsday

A Suffolk task force created to tackle housing discrimination is asking the public to testify virtually Thursday night, the latest government hearing following a 2019 Newsday investigation showing unequal treatment, based on race, of prospective homebuyers.

After compiling the testimony as well as input from experts and government officials, the task force is to make policy recommendations aimed at combating housing discrimination. Newsday’s investigation, "Long Island Divided," uncovered evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of Black and Hispanic prospective homebuyers on Long Island, despite equal qualifications.

"Last year, Newsday did quite a telling exposé on the real estate industry on Long Island," Suffolk Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco said, "and what were pretty clear biases that were playing out in terms of how people were shown their potential house for purchase."

The hearing, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is over Zoom, due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Calarco (D-Patchogue).

As of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, seven people had signed up to testify, and the sign-up is open through the hearing, he said; each speaker will get three minutes to speak, plus time for questions from task-force members.

The task force was created by the county legislature last year "to do its part in rectifying this injustice," Calarco’s predecessor, DuWayne Gregory, said then. It is to make recommendations by the end of the year.

According to a news release from the Suffolk Legislature, those who want to testify can complete a speaker card at www.scnylegislature.us/ABPublicHearing and click on "Fair Housing Task Force" as the advisory body. The panel will also accept audio recordings or written statements by email to: derek.stein@suffolkcountyny.gov, and by postal mail to: Suffolk County Legislature, P.O. Box 6100 — Building 20, Hauppauge, NY, 11788.

Task force members include Suffolk lawmakers and representatives from the NAACP, the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, Syosset-based Erase Racism, the Long Island Board of Realtors, housing advocates and the Long Island Builders Institute, the release said.

"We do have quite a diverse membership on the task force," Calarco said.

The task force follows Newsday’s investigation, which took three years and sent minority and white testers to look for homes in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. The findings: Minority testers were treated disparately 40% of the time, compared with whites. Black testers got disparate treatment 49% of the time, compared to 39% for Hispanic and 19% for Asian testers.

Housing discrimination is illegal.

New York’s legislature also convened hearings following the Newsday investigation. At one last month, state senators expressed outrage about what appeared to be a lack of disciplinary action against those agents spotlighted in the series.

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