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State bill: Increase real estate agents' anti-discrimination training

A composite photo of State Sen. James Skoufis

A composite photo of State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) on June 26, 2017, when he was an assemblyman, and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) on Jan. 10, 2018. Credit: Times Herald-Record / Kelly Marsh; Yeong-Ung Yang

ALBANY — Two state legislators have proposed a measure to increase the amount of training real estate brokers must take to prevent discrimination, a direct response to a recent Newsday investigation centered on realty practices on Long Island.

Sponsored by State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights), the bill would mandate licensees to take six hours of training, including “courses on the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, the historic lack of access to housing opportunity experienced by disadvantaged groups.”

Current law requires agents to complete three hours of training on fair housing laws, which the lawmakers said was no longer enough.

"This will direct focus on some of the issues the Newsday article brought to light," Jean-Pierre said, referring to Newsday's series, "Long Island Divided," published last fall. "I think it will give people clarity about what's been happening not just on Long Island but across the state."

The series found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority homebuyers in Nassau and Suffolk counties. This is the second piece of legislation sparked by the series. An earlier bill would suspend or revoke a real estate agent’s license for violating New York's human rights law.

Another bill being drafted, Jean-Pierre said, would establish fines for discriminatory real estate practices, with some of the funds going to organizations that fight racism.

Along with legislative proposals, investigations have been launched by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and the State Senate.

In a memo accompanying their bill, Jean-Pierre and Skoufis said the Newsday report “revealed that Long Island's dominant residential brokering firms appeared to be helping to solidify racial separations.”

The New York State Association of Realtors declined comment. At a Senate hearing in December, the association's president said he was “appalled” by the findings of the investigation and offered to work with the state to “be part of the solution moving forward.”

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