Action continues to come, slowly, in the fight against racial bias in the real estate industry — a fight that has taken on new poignancy in the age of the coronavirus, which has exposed long-existing racial disparities across a host of other metrics like educational opportunity, health outcomes, jobs and income.
The latest steps: Attorney General Letitia James will give groups on Long Island and around the state $3.6 million in recession-related bank settlement funds for enforcement of, and education about, fair-housing laws. In addition, state regulations that went into effect recently mandate that real estate agents and brokers tell customers — buyers, sellers, renters, landlords — about anti-discrimination laws, and they also require audio and video recording of state-mandated training sessions on fair housing laws. These are good steps, necessary but far from sufficient.
The anti-bias effort was sparked by Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" project, which found that 40 percent of minority homebuyers on Long Island — and 49 percent of black homebuyers — received disparate treatment compared with white homebuyers in paired testing, the practice of comparing the experiences of homebuyers with similar financial situations but different racial or other characteristics. The revelations elicited promises of change from industry and government. Nassau County's legislature approved a telephone hotline for homebuyers to report biased treatment by the real estate industry. Suffolk promised to hire more investigators and judges for the county's Human Rights Commission.
There is more to do, even as the state grapples with the coronavirus crisis.
Much of the attorney general's funding will go toward paired testing, the gold standard when it comes to rooting out housing discrimination and the tool used in Newsday's series. One of the beneficiaries will be Long Island Housing Services, which will use the money to beef up its enforcement program including paired testing, once that is allowed to resume under coronavirus restrictions. But more state and local funding for enforcement is needed.
Several pieces of pending state legislation from Long Island lawmakers also should be approved. One would allow an agent or broker's license to be suspended or revoked for discriminatory acts. Another would increase anti-discrimination training for agents and brokers. A third would toughen enforcement and fines for discriminatory behavior. And a State Senate hearing, postponed in April because of the virus and set to feature Long Island real estate agents and companies who had to be subpoenaed because they refused to voluntarily attend an earlier similarly high-profile hearing, must be rescheduled.
Long Island's housing discrimination problem has not faded. The effort to change it must continue.
— The editorial board