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OpinionEditorial

Awakening about discrimination in home sales is long overdue

Newsday's Arthur Browne testifies before the Joint Public

Newsday's Arthur Browne testifies before the Joint Public Hearing on Housing Discrimination on Long Island Thursday at Hofstra University. Credit: Howard Schnapp

 The right things were said, repeatedly.

From the state senators on the three-committee panel holding a hearing Thursday on housing discrimination on Long Island, to the experts, advocates, elected officials and representatives of the real estate industry who testified, everyone pronounced  himself or herself dismayed, disturbed and angered by the findings of Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" project.

Newsday’s revelation that 40 percent of minority homebuyers received disparate treatment compared with white homebuyers in paired testing — and 49 percent of black homebuyers — has been followed by many promises of action from many players at different levels of government and within the real estate industry, as well as by proposals for other corrections by fair housing advocates.

This is promising. But it will mean nothing without forceful follow-through, a point driven home by advocates appearing before the panel at Hofstra University. Discrimination has long been entrenched on Long Island, especially in housing. It will take a long time and lots of effort to uproot it.

There has been no shortage of good ideas. New anti-discrimination measures can be adopted. Existing ones can be vigorously enforced. More state funding for more paired testing, the gold standard of ferreting out housing discrimination, is essential. State agencies, from the attorney general’s office to the Department of State to the Division of Human Rights, must be more proactive and reactive. The state also can be more aggressive in revoking or suspending the licenses of agents found to have discriminated. A bill from State Sen. James Gaughran and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre to add discrimination to the list of justifications for license suspension or revocation is worth exploring. Training in fair housing laws for real estate agents must be strengthened. Among the many other remedies proposed is one offered Thursday by Johnnie Mae Alston, a black woman and one of Newsday’s testers, who suggested posting required notices about discrimination prominently in real estate offices so unwary homebuyers can see them.

The real estate industry has a role to play, too. But of the 68 real estate agents or representatives of real estate companies mentioned in Newsday’s expose who were invited to give testimony Thursday, only one showed up. The other 67 declined the  invitations or did not respond. That's unforgivable. State Sen. James Skoufis, who chairs the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, promised future subpoenas to compel their testimony. That's the right move.

This awakening has been a long time coming. Generations of Long Islanders victimized by housing discrimination have been robbed of the opportunity to build wealth and  enroll their children in high-performing schools.

Most of those in the hearing room at Hofstra seemed to understand that. Exorcising that, as one witness noted, will be a marathon, not a sprint. The first steps have been taken. Now the hard work begins.

— The editorial board

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