State Senate hearing confronts racial bias by brokers

Various measures aim to curb discrimination in home-shopping

State Sens. James Gaughran, Brian Kavanagh and Kevin Thomas (NY Gov; Getty)
State Sens. James Gaughran, Brian Kavanagh and Kevin Thomas (NY Gov; Getty)

Ten months after a Newsday investigation reminded New Yorkers that minority home-shoppers still face bias from real estate brokers, the state Senate will convene a hearing tomorrow on what to do about it.

One problem: The paired testing of 93 agents that exposed their differing treatment of Black, Latino and Asian shoppers is expensive, and state revenues have collapsed because of the pandemic.

However, one thing that Levittown state Sen. Kevin Thomas wants from the brokerage community would not cost anything: “I would like an apology,” he told Newsday.

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He was referring to the investigation’s finding that 49 percent of Black homebuyers were discriminated against by brokers, as were 39 percent of Latino shoppers and 19 percent of Asians.

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Typically, that meant minorities were steered to minority neighborhoods or subjected to more stringent requirements than white buyers, such as having to produce a pre-approved mortgage application in order to see a home for sale. All are violations of fair housing laws.

State legislators have already passed one bill in response to the newspaper’s probe. The measure, approved in July, allows the state to suspend or revoke the license of real estate agents who discriminate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law.

Other bills introduced to address the issue, according to Newsday, would mandate six hours of fair housing training for agents every two years, up from the current three hours; require the state attorney general to do paired testing annually; compel state legislators to agencies to reduce segregation; allow damages for victims of housing discrimination; and subject violators to additional penalties in bias cases brought by the attorney general.

It is not clear if brokers will apologize at the Senate hearing, but the industry has been largely supportive of efforts to reduce discrimination since the exposé was published. The Long Island Board of Realtors has beefed up its anti-discrimination training efforts, offered agents additional educational resources, created a diversity committee and strengthened ties to fair-housing groups, the trade group told Newsday. [Newsday] — Erik Engquist