L.I. brokers subpoenaed to testify in housing discrimination probe

State Senate’s unusual move is related to an investigation into widespread bias in the real estate industry

Feb.February 21, 2020 10:46 AM
From left: State Sen. James Gaughran, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (Credit: Getty Images)

From left: State Sen. James Gaughran, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (Credit: Getty Images)

State lawmakers are now subpoenaing Long Island brokers to testify over allegations of widespread bias in the real estate industry after 67 of 68 industry representatives failed to show up to a December hearing.

The state Senate’s unusual move — so far it has issued 25 subpoenas — is related to an investigation into bias in the industry, which came to light as a result of a three-year investigation by Newsday. The paper first reported on the subpoenas.

State Sen. James Gaughran blasted the no-shows as having “the audacity to blow off the state Senate’s hearing on this important topic,” the paper reported.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said the December hearing was an “opportunity for all parties to discuss the Newsday investigation and findings of institutionalized discrimination, and help determine how to combat these practices. The individuals and groups subpoenaed by the Senate Majority refused to participate in this hearing.”

According to Newsday, lawmakers issued the subpoenas to compel agents to appear at a Senate hearing set to take place April 17. Calling the subpoenas an “extraordinary step,” Sen. James Skoufis said failure to comply will result in “legal action.”

Newsday’s investigation documented widespread discrimination toward minority homebuyers on Long Island. In several cases, agents steered buyers to particular neighborhoods based on race; they also require mortgage pre-approval from black buyers but not white buyers.

In December, the head of the New York State Association of Realtors said he was “appalled” by the findings, and pledged to revamp the group’s training to be “part of the solution moving forward.”

In addition to the Senate investigation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James have launched probes. Gaughran and Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre have proposed bills to lengthen mandatory training on fair housing laws, and to expand the state’s authority to revoke an agent’s license. [Newsday] — E.B. Solomant 

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