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Calls in Congress for Barr, HUD to probe unfair housing after Newsday series

Newsday's series, "Long Island Divided," has sparked calls

Newsday's series, "Long Island Divided," has sparked calls from minority members of Congress for a federal investigation of "rampant discriminatory treatment of homebuyers of color." Credit: Newsday

A coalition of congressional minority caucuses has called on Attorney General William Barr and HUD Secretary Ben Carson to investigate “rampant discriminatory treatment of homebuyers of color” as documented in a three-year Newsday investigation.

The Congressional Tri-Caucus — which includes the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses — called on officials with the U.S. Department of Justice and Housing and Urban Development to take “immediate action.”

“The disturbing findings by Newsday and increasing trends of housing discrimination suggests that this is indicative of a larger problem across our country that HUD and DOJ must immediately address,” the Tri-Caucus wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to Barr and Carson.

Newsday's series, “Long Island Divided,” uncovered widespread evidence that minority homebuyers on Long Island are not treated equally by real estate agents.

Some real estate agents appeared to steer homebuyers based on race, impose more stringent conditions for homebuyers of color and avoided doing business in areas with large minority populations.

Newsday found minority testers were treated disparately 40% of the time, compared with whites. Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49% of the time, compared with 39% for Hispanic and 19% for Asian testers.

DOJ and HUD officials should investigate and enforce potential violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Tri-Caucus said. The Fair Housing Act protects people against discrimination when they are seeking to buy, rent or finance a home.

In November, HUD said it was probing patterns of unequal treatment for homebuyers on Long Island after Newsday published the series and Long Island Reps. Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi called on the agency to “investigate these discriminatory practices for violations of the Fair Housing Act.”

“Combating housing discrimination is at the forefront of our Department’s enforcement priorities,” a HUD representative said in a statement after Rice and Suozzi’s letter. “Our office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is looking into the findings reported by Newsday.”

A HUD representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, nor after sixteen Congress members called on it to investigate housing discrimination earlier this month. The DOJ can file lawsuits to enforce the Fair Housing Act.

The Tri-Caucus is led by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquin Castro, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu, and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass.

Fourteen other Congress members signed the group's letter, which was also addressed to Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. The letter cited a recent National Fair Housing Alliance report that found housing discrimination and housing-related hate crimes are rising. It also noted the housing directly impacts people's access to jobs, food, health care and education.

Newsday’s report prompted a wide range of public officials to announce efforts to combat housing discrimination. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a state probe and announced new regulations for real estate agents to inform customers of their rights. State Attorney General Letitia James pledged to investigate and urged potential homebuyers to contact her office. The state Senate held a hearing.

Nassau legislators approved a hotline for homebuyers to log complaints and Suffolk legislators created a fair housing task force. County Executives Laura Curran and Steve Bellone proposed ways to address the problem, including increased education and enforcement. 

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