Suffolk County sets aside $140K to investigate housing discrimination

Paired testing contract comes two years after explosive investigation showed evidence of unequal treatment


Suffolk County is making a modest effort to assess the extent of housing discrimination in the area — modest being the operative word.

The county legislature approved a $141,000 contract with nonprofit Long Island Housing Services to test whether real estate agents and mortgage lenders are complying with fair housing laws, which bar discrimination based on race and source of income, among other factors, Newsday reported.

The nonprofit will use paired testing, in which investigators pose as prospective tenants or homebuyers with identical qualifications but different characteristics, such as race or ethnicity. Investigators then compare the treatment each fictitious persona received.

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According to Newsday, results from the testing can be used as evidence for future prosecutions based on violations of fair housing laws.

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Long Island Housing Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but executive director Ian Wilder told Newsday that the contract “shows a commitment of the county to put teeth into the human rights law.”

Long Island’s real estate industry came under scrutiny in 2019 after Newsday published a three-year investigation that revealed evidence of widespread discrimination by agents in the area. Newsday found that Black testers received unequal treatment 49 percent of the time, Latinos 39 percent of the time and Asians 19 percent of the time.

Government-sanctioned fair housing testing will be new to Suffolk County, which has a population of nearly 1.5 million. A county task force revealed in July that the county doesn’t run tests, the publication reported. Other changes include increased education on fair housing laws for both agents and homebuyers, Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter told Newsday, as well as more housing discrimination investigators procured by the Human Rights Commission.

Earlier this year, the Department of State sought to deny license renewals to three brokers based on allegations made in Newsday’s investigation. Those agents appealed the denials. Altogether, the department filed cases against 23 agents identified in the probe, though some have fended off the allegations and returned to work.

Statewide measures are also being taken to combat housing discrimination in light of Newsday’s investigation. In February, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had the state set aside $250,000 for an undercover testing initiative to be carried out by local nonprofits across New York, which has 20.4 million residents.

[Newsday] — Holden Walter-Warner