Housing Rights probe accuses brokerages, landlords of Section 8 discrimination

Corcoran, Compass among those named in federal lawsuit

Aaron Carr of Housing Rights Initiative (Facebook, iStock)
Aaron Carr of Housing Rights Initiative (Facebook, iStock)

The watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative has filed its most wide-ranging lawsuit yet, alleging that 88 landlords and residential brokerages in the city — including Corcoran and Compass — discriminated against prospective tenants trying to use Section 8 housing vouchers.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, is based on dozens of conversations secretly recorded by undercover investigators posing as prospective tenants, the New York Times reported. In the recordings, many landlords and real estate agents declined to show apartments once the investigators inquired about using Section 8 vouchers, according to the publication.

In some cases, the discrimination was subtle; in others, it was blatant. “She just doesn’t,” one independent broker told an investigator when asked whether a landlord would accept the vouchers. “She wants well-qualified people.”

Both the city and state bar discriminating against prospective tenants based on their lawful sources of income, including Section 8 vouchers. Most of the approximately 125,000 households that use the vouchers in the city are Black or Latino.

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“Our goal here is simple: It’s to get real estate companies to abandon their discriminatory housing practices and follow the damn law,” HRI’s Aaron Carr told the paper. “They are the gatekeepers of housing and get to decide where families live, where they work and where children go to school. Housing discrimination goes beyond the walls of housing.”

The lawsuit named Compass, the Corcoran Group and a Century 21 franchise office in Manhattan among the more than 80 defendants in the suit.

The investigation comes after Newsday in 2019 published the results of a three-year probe on brokers’ violation of fair housing rules on Long Island, which led the state to use undercover testers to root out housing discrimination.

Landlord groups generally favor vouchers because they increase what tenants can spend for an apartment. But vouchers involve bureaucracy that can delay a tenant’s moving in, costing a landlord money. However, among the various voucher programs, landlords consider Section 8 to be the most reliable.

[NYT] — Akiko Matsuda