Rice Pushes for Investigation of Alleged Widespread Bias in Long Island’s Housing Market

December 20, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., is leading a congressional effort to urge the U.S. Justice Department to open an investigation into potential fair housing violations exposed in a recent report in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper.

Using undercover testers as potential homebuyers, a three-year investigation conducted by the newspaper found real estate agents associated with the area’s largest residential brokerage firms frequently steered white customers towards predominantly white neighborhoods, while directing minority buyers to more diverse ones.

“Newsday’s investigative reporting exposed pervasive housing discrimination against minority homebuyers across Long Island,” Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney, said in a statement.

“This is not only deeply disturbing and morally reprehensible – it’s also completely illegal,” she continued. “Clearly, the protections put in place under the Fair Housing Act are not being adequately enforced. And that has to change, not just on Long Island, but across the country. Newsday’s findings need to be investigated and those responsible for perpetuating these discriminatory practices must be held accountable.”

The findings in the Newsday report suggested that real estate agents have been perpetuating residential segregation and conveyed a disturbing pattern of racial separation throughout the region.

Evidence gathered through paired testing — which is consistently endorsed by federal and state courts as the only viable method for detecting violations of fair housing laws by real estate agents — found disparate treatment against black testers 49 percent of the time, against Hispanic testers 39 percent of the time, and against Asian testers 19 percent of the time.

Immediately after the report was published, Rice and fellow Long Island Democrat, Rep. Thomas Suozzi, sent a joint letter to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, pressing him to have the agency investigate the issues turned up by the newspaper’s extensive investigation.

“We write to express serious concerns regarding the findings,” the representatives said. 

“The findings in this report suggest that these real estate agents have been perpetuating residential segregation and convey a disturbing pattern of housing discrimination throughout the region,” they said.

A HUD spokesperson responded by saying “combating housing discrimination is at the forefront of our Department’s enforcement priorities.”

“Our Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is looking into the findings reported by Newsday,” a statement for the agency said.

Since then, the momentum behind the search for answers and justice on Capitol Hill has only grown.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen lawmakers signed a letter to Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, requesting it start a probe as well.

The Division has a housing and civil enforcement section, which files lawsuits to enforce the Fair Housing Act.

The law also authorizes the Justice Department to bring lawsuits when investigations yield evidence of a “pattern or practice” of illegal housing discrimination.

In addition to Rice and Suozzi, the signers included Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Hakeem Jefferies, Adriano Espaillat, and Eliot Engel, all of New York, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Long Island has a long-documented history of racial segregation and housing discrimination and remains one of the most racially segregated metropolitan regions in the United States,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, Long Island is not the only community where race-based housing discrimination continues to be a pervasive problem. … Housing segregation and discrimination still persists in many metropolitan areas across the United States …”

“Therefore, we are requesting you immediately open an investigation into the potential fair housing violations exposed in the Newsday report. Should the facts and evidence from such an investigation warrant enforcement, we then urge you to take swift and immediate action to enforce the law,” they said.

The issue has come up at a critical time.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is intended to protect people against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex when they are seeking to buy, rent or finance a home. It was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, in August the Trump administration introduced a new rule that many fear will make it harder for people to bring forward discrimination complaints under the Fair Housing Act.

The proposed regulation announced by Carson would replace an Obama-era rule on disparate impact, a legal theory that has guided fair housing law for more than 50 years.

Disparate impact refers to practices or policies that have an adverse impact on minorities without discriminating against them in explicit terms.

The Supreme Court has recognized this form of bias as prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. Now  HUD wants to substantially raise the burden of proof for parties claiming discrimination.

Rice said in a statement that HUD, “must end its harmful rollback of fair housing measures.”

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WASHINGTON - Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., is leading a congressional effort to urge the U.S. Justice Department to open an investigation into potential fair housing violations exposed in a recent report in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Using undercover testers as potential homebuyers, a three-year investigation... Read More

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