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Good Afternoon

Follow through on housing bias

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen here in May,

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen here in May, ordered a state investigation in real estate discrimination on Long Island. Credit: Charles Eckert

That housing segregation still exists is one of the maddening facts of 21st-century life. We all know it’s wrong, it’s been called out for decades, and yet it persists. So we applaud Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for signing legislation that allows licenses of real estate professionals to be suspended or revoked if they engage in discriminatory behavior. 

The bill, sponsored by two Long Islanders, State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights), won’t end such discrimination on its own. But it’s one more building block in the growing legacy of official anti-discrimination actions being carved by Newsday’s Long Island Divided project published last year. The project found that 49% of Black homebuyers, and 40% of all minority homebuyers, were subjected to disparate treatment compared with white homebuyers during paired testing. That’s the gold standard to prove housing discrimination, by comparing the experiences of would-be homebuyers with different racial or other characteristics but similar financial backgrounds.

The new law complements a series of actions in the wake of Long Island Divided, including vows by Nassau and Suffolk counties to better investigate charges of housing discrimination. New state regulations require that real estate agents and brokers tell their customers about fair housing laws, and that state-mandated training sessions on fair housing laws be recorded. The industry has promised reform. The state is doing an analysis of segregated living patterns and housing disparities. And Attorney General Letitia James agreed to give groups on Long Island and statewide $3.6 million in bank settlement funds for educating about and enforcing fair-housing laws — much of that for paired testing. 

As is often the case with deeply entrenched problems, more is needed — better training of agents, tougher enforcement and fines. James needs to come through with that funding. The Suffolk County Legislature’s Fair Housing Task Force holds its second meeting next week as it looks to strengthen the county’s human rights law and consider establishing a countywide database of housing discrimination complaints, creating a mechanism for more aggressive enforcement, and holding public hearings[BOLD].[/BOLD] Meanwhile, the State Senate is rescheduling its own hearing, postponed in April because of COVID-19, that will feature Long Island real estate agents and companies who had to be subpoenaed because they wouldn’t voluntarily attend an earlier similarly high-profile hearing.

These are all good ideas but worthless without follow-through. This effort must be as persistent as the noxious behavior it seeks to eradicate.

Fighting housing discrimination is particularly important as President Donald Trump dismantles fair housing guidelines, like his recent elimination of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule such that local governments will no longer have to consider segregation patterns in their communities when doing planning — and as the coronavirus has laid bare a host of social justice issues, like housing, that negatively affect minority communities.

The battle has been joined, but the foe is deeply rooted. This isn’t a fight Long Island can afford to lose.

— The editorial board