Newsday's Nov. 17, 2019 front page highlighted its publication of Long Island...

Newsday's Nov. 17, 2019 front page highlighted its publication of Long Island Divided, a three-year investigation into unequal treatment by the real estate industry. Credit: Newsday

Gov. Kathy Hochul deserves praise for her much-needed statewide plan to tackle our widely acknowledged housing crisis. As advocates committed to fair housing, we know there is no better time than now to begin to reverse the generational impacts of redlining, zoning barriers, and our state’s stagnant supply of homes.

However, new production must be paired with robust enforcement of housing opportunity. Efforts to combat our housing crisis are still undermined by persistent — and illegal — housing discrimination based on protected classes, including race, familial status, and source of income. It’s been three years since Newsday published the disturbing results of its landmark investigation "Long Island Divided," which showed New Yorkers of color experiencing widespread unequal treatment when seeking homes on Long Island. Unfortunately, such housing discrimination remains pervasive statewide and state fair housing laws are not even close to adequately enforced.

Source of income protections, for example, aim to prevent landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants using non-wage income like rental vouchers to pay for rent. Studies have shown the positive impact these laws have, including increased mobility for voucher holders to move to more racially and economically diverse neighborhoods if they choose. But despite laws on the books in New York since 2019, source of income discrimination remains a plague, festering with insufficient enforcement and undermining meaningful investments in new tools, like New York’s Housing Access Voucher Program. Just last week, a housing nonprofit sued 12 local real estate companies for turning away potential tenants seeking to pay for Nassau County apartments with vouchers.

In 2020, Enterprise and Long Island Housing Services partnered with the state attorney general and five other regional full-service fair housing organizations on a pilot program, Eliminating Barriers to Housing New York, which funded each organization to expand their work. The program was highly successful; the six organizations hired 20 new staff members, held 370 training events, conducted nearly 1,500 tests to find evidence of discrimination, and launched over 100 enforcement actions against landlords engaged in discriminatory behavior.

The state has since recognized the importance of fair housing enforcement by absorbing the pilot into a new Fair Housing Testing Program, which launched this year. We applaud the state for this initial investment — but urge the governor and Legislature to build on this momentum by increasing total funding for the program in this year’s budget from $2 million to $7 million. That would allow these six organizations to help even more tenants in need, eventually covering the entire state. The funds will also assist additional organizations, including nonprofits with deep ties to their communities, to develop fair housing programs of their own, joining members of the New York State Fair Housing Network to collaborate on investigations and create best practices.

Reversing the entrenched discrimination that got us to our segregated and unaffordable present will not be easy. In the face of our current housing crisis, the Legislature and the governor have presented bold solutions, including a plan to increase our supply of housing and to invest in stabilizing rental assistance vouchers. But robust fair housing enforcement cannot be left behind. We urge our state leaders to strengthen New York’s commitment to stamping out housing discrimination by increasing the total funding for the NYS Fair Housing Testing Program in this year’s budget to $7 million — and by doing so, to set an example for every state.

This guest essay reflects the views of Baaba Halm, vice president and New York market leader of Enterprise Community Partners, and Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services.

This guest essay reflects the views of Baaba Halm, vice president and New York market leader of Enterprise Community Partners, and Ian Wilder, executive director of Long Island Housing Services.

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