Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of nine housing discrimination...

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of nine housing discrimination bills spurred by Newsday's "Long Island Divided" series.

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed a wide-ranging package of anti-discrimination laws spurred by Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" investigative series about real estate practices.

The new laws increase fines for violating housing discrimination laws, mandate more anti-bias training, standardize procedures for real estate agents and increase brokers’ fees to pay for deployment of undercover homebuyers to test whether agents are "steering" clients to or away from neighborhoods based on race.

In all, Hochul signed nine bills into law, after a series of state Senate hearings in which dozens of real estate agents and companies were subpoenaed to participate.

Hochul and state legislators cited the Newsday series for prompting the changes.

"When intrepid investigative journalists uncovered housing discrimination in New York, we took action to end this unacceptable practice," Hochul, a Democrat, said in a statement. "I'm proud to sign strong new laws expanding access to fair housing and allowing more New Yorkers to achieve the American dream of owning their homes."

Elaine Gross of the Syosset-based group ERASE Racism said Tuesday: "The fact that these bills are signed is an early Christmas present."

In its three-year investigation, Newsday sent "testers" carrying hidden cameras and microphones to meet with real estate agents and record the meetings.

The findings found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island.

The findings included evidence that potential homebuyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that some agents required mortgage preapproval from Black customers but not from whites.

Fully 49% of African American testers, 39% of Hispanic testers and 19% of Asian testers received what housing experts deemed unequal treatment by real estate agents.

"Newsday’s ‘Long Island Divided’ investigation series made it very clear that we have a problem on Long Island when it comes to the unequal treatment of minority homebuyers, and better training for real estate professionals must be part of the solution," state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said in a statement.

The New York State Association of Realtors, noting it sought to work with lawmakers to provide input on proposed legislation, applauded Hochul's actions.

"We commend Governor Hochul and the State Legislature for their actions and their willingness to work with Realtors and other industry partners toward reasonable solutions that enhance fair housing education for all real estate licensees and increase penalties for bad actors who violate the law," the association said in a statement.

"There is no place for illegal discrimination, whether it be in housing or elsewhere," the association said.

Hochul said the "centerpiece" of the legislation will be a new "Anti-Discrimination in Housing Fund" that will enable the state to test to ensure companies are following fair housing laws.

It will be funded by doubling fines for violating housing anti-discrimination laws to $2,000 and earmarking 50% of fines for the new fund.

Another new law adds a $30 surcharge to brokers’ license fees and $10 for salespeople, also to help pay for testing.

The state attorney general’s office will allocate grants to government and nongovernmental entities that specialize in housing to conduct testing.

"This legislation will help fund the critical work of identifying and stopping discrimination in the housing market — by establishing a fund devoted solely to these efforts," said state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport).

"By toughening penalties against bad actors, funding paired testing efforts, enhancing cultural competency training requirements and providing more resources to homebuyers, we are ensuring that every New Yorker has the right to choose where they want to live and build a better future for their family," Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights), who sponsored four of the bills, said.

The package of new laws also will:

  • Increase the amount of required training for real estate professionals relating to fair housing, cultural competency and implicit bias.
  • Require standardized "intake" procedures for brokers working with clients, and create a penalty for failure to comply.
  • Require brokers serving as office managers to supervise other real estate professionals.
  • Require all state and local agencies that receive state housing aid to take meaningful steps to further fair housing and report those steps to the state Legislature at regular intervals.
  • Create a telephone hot line for reporting housing discrimination.

State legislators began hearings in 2019 and had intended to take action in 2020 — but the state legislative session was cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lawmakers returned to a more normal session in 2021 and enacted the anti-discrimination bills.

"We have been working on this for what seems like forever," said Gross, who testified at the hearings. "But we are so pleased to have this happen."

Gross said the package of new laws addressed key problems: Lack of testing to detect discrimination, lack of enforcement of existing laws and insufficient penalties for breaking the law.

"I feel that what was reflected in these new laws gets at the concerns that were raised," Gross said.

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