Newsday's Long Island Divided investigation cover from Nov.  18, 2019.

Newsday's Long Island Divided investigation cover from Nov.  18, 2019.

As the affordable housing crisis on Long Island and statewide mounts, the impacts of housing discrimination must remain in focus. Illegal housing discrimination remains persistent, even five years after Newsday’s investigation  uncovered pervasive racial bias in the Long Island housing market. While Gov. Kathy Hochul, the State Senate, and Assembly all acknowledge this issue through various proposals, all sides must come together to ensure strong fair housing enforcement resources are in the final state budget agreement.

In its one-house budget announcement, the State Senate allocated $4 million to the state’s Fair Housing Testing, Education and Networking program, an increase of $2 million from the governor's and Assembly’s proposals. We urge our leadership branches to work together to finalize this $4 million figure, which would be transformative in combating housing discrimination.

The need is great. Source-of-income discrimination remains common statewide. It occurs when a landlord rejects a potential tenant for using rental assistance vouchers, or other non-wage income, to pay rent. More than 1.1 million New Yorkers rely on federal rental assistance, with more receiving support from local and state programs. Tenants using vouchers report being ghosted or told explicitly that a landlord doesn’t accept Section 8, in violation of state law. It is the most common type of fair housing complaint in New York City, one of the top three across the state, and one of the most common types on Long Island, according to local fair housing organizations.

Hochul recently proposed establishing a new source-of-income discrimination enforcement unit, focused on early intervention and finding secure housing for voucher holders without litigation, along with reining in such discrimination among insurance carriers. Hochul’s proposal deserves credit for its focus on proactive solutions, including working to find housing placements for tenants.

To fully tackle this issue, lawmakers should support the network of nonprofits that does the work of the vital but underfunded state Fair Housing Testing, Education and Networking program. This program funds six regional full-service fair housing organizations doing fair housing testing, education and enforcement across the state, including Long Island Housing Services and Fair Housing Justice Center, both operating in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The program is incredibly effective. In 2022, these organizations fielded 64% of all fair housing complaints in New York. Fair housing testing by both organizations on Long Island has led to settlements with brokerages and property owners found to be discriminating against tenants paying with non-wage income. In the last year, the program has allowed the six participating organizations to hire and train new staff members and conduct over 450 fair housing tests. But that does not even scratch the surface of the discrimination New Yorkers face.

The Senate’s proposed funding boost will allow the nonprofits to have a deeper impact, helping more tenants and holding more discriminatory actors accountable. It will enable the program to expand into rural areas upstate not currently covered. And it will fund a wider range of activities — like complaint intake and more enforcement actions — that nonprofits are already doing out of necessity, without the state funds to do. 

Hochul has said, “Investment in this crucial program sends a clear message: housing discrimination will not be tolerated here in New York.” In this spirit, we urge the governor and State Legislature to double down on their commitment to fair housing by increasing funding for this program from $2 million to $4 million.

This guest essay reflects the views of Baaba Halm, vice president and New York market leader of Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit.

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