Suffolk County launches initiative to combat housing discrimination

HAUPPAUGE, Long Island (WABC) -- Suffolk County unveiled new actions Tuesday designed to combat alleged housing discrimination on Long Island.

The initiative comes after a three-year Newsday investigation that determined evidence of disparate treatment of potential minority home buyers and minority communities.

Using paired testers as part of its investigation, Newsday found that a number of real estate agents avoided showing listings in many of Long Island's minority communities to white individuals, whereas they were more inclined to show people of color listings within integrated communities.

"The results of the Newsday investigation are disturbing and unacceptable," County Executive Steve Bellone said. "We must come together as a region to develop and implement strategies that will effectively address housing discrimination on Long Island."

The State Human Rights law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics including sex, age, and race among others.

"We have a history of segregation, discrimination," Bellone said. "That still exists, and we have an obligation to address it."

The proposed four actions are as follows:

Conduct Ongoing Housing Discrimination Investigations: In order to take appropriate action, Bellone intends to issue a Request for Proposals to select a qualified organization to partner with to ensure that any and all housing discrimination incidents are fully investigated against potential violators. Any complaint made to the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission can also be made to the Civil Rights Division of the New York State Attorney General's Office or New York State Department of Human Rights.

New Yorkers who experience housing discrimination are urged to file a complaint with the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission by calling (631) 853-5480. Suffolk County residents can also file a complaint with the New York State Department of State Division of Human Rights online or (631) 952-6434 or by contacting the New York State Attorney General's Office at (212) 416-8250.

Strengthening Human Rights Commission: Bellone has authorized the hiring of an additional investigator for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission for the purpose of examining alleged fair housing violations. Suffolk County has also issued a Request for Qualifications to contract with Administrative Law Judges who will conduct hearings regarding disputes including fair housing.

Convene Industry Stakeholders: Bellone has begun reaching out to leading industry stakeholders including the Long Island Board of Realtors to begin the process of identifying solutions that would help ensure better compliance of federal and New York state guidelines for its real estate agents.

Public Education and Training: Bellone will help lead a consortium of members of the real estate community to better educate the public of their legal rights as it pertains to searching for housing rentals and/or ownership. This will better ensure that prospective buyers and/or renters understand and identify if they are the subject of discrimination.

According to New York State Real Property Law, real estate professionals are required to complete a total of 22.5 hours of continuing education, which shall include at least three hours of instruction concentrated in fair housing and discrimination.

Bellone has proposed amending state law to require at least double the number of hours in the concentration of fair housing and discrimination, a review of the curriculum, and compliance.

In addition, Bellone will be working with the State Legislature in the coming legislative session to develop a comprehensive bill of rights for potential homebuyers.

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