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Combating Housing Bias Relies On ‘Trust,’ Suffolk Task Force Says

David Zalubowski

Dealing with how to build trust with vulnerable Black and Latinx communities on identifying housing discrimination on Long Island is a challenge a Suffolk County task force will soon face.

Pilar Moya-Mancera, who sits on the county’s fair housing task force, said nonprofit services and fair housing advocates can play a crucial role in helping the county educate communities of color.

“When it comes to dealing with the immigrant community, there is always that issue of trust. They trust us. They trust people that they know. It’s better when that education piece comes from a trusted person within the community,” she said during a public hearing on Feb. 10 to hear testimony from residents who have experienced housing discrimination.

Moya-Mancera, an activist for Latinx communities, runs Housing Help, a non-profit organization focused on helping families access affordable housing.

The task force met days after the New York State Senate passed 11 bills targeting biased housing and real estate practices. The group is tasked with recommending how the county would enforce this legislation to combat housing discrimintation in Suffolk County, if signed by the governor.

The state bill package is in response to a three-year Newsday investigation that identified cases where real estate agents steered Black homebuyers away from white neighborhoods. The state Senate followed with a similar report after holding hearings with real estate companies and housing experts.

“It’s about time that we unify as one, and start making laws that make sense, coming from the state level and local level,” said Samuel Gonzalez, who chairs the task force.

Housing advocates told the county to also focus on educating renters of their rights, as well as homeowners who receive government assistance.

Ta’Kima Anthony-Bey, a housing mobility counselor at Community Development Corporation of Long Island, said people could be targets of housing discrimination if they receive housing vouchers or are unemployed. Her organization distributes housing vouchers to eligible families.

“We deal with discrimination regularly, our families basically have a source of income, that comes from a government subsidy, and when we contact landlords and real-estate professionals, we routinely hear that they will not accept a program. It is really challenging for us to do our work.” Anthony-Bey said.

Gonzalez said a landlord rejecting someone’s rental application because a housing voucher may signal to them the prospective tenant’s race or ethnicity is discriminatory. These decisions might be an implicit bias and are still in violation of state and federal law, he said.

“I need in this task force and as an individual to get to the bottom line and what it is that we can do as a task force to improve so that discrimination does not continue,” Gonzalez said.

The task force anticipates a few challenges in the coming months.

Some current tenants who might have become unemployed during the pandemic are stretched thin and relied on the state’s moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. The moratorium is set to expire in May, when a wave of evictions are expected.

“We have received many complaints of tenants that are being kicked out of their apartments illegally, illegal evictions,” Moya-Mancera said. “Their belongings being put on the street, locks being changed, and it seems to be happening more to immigrant tenants than anybody else.”

“A lot of them don’t even know what they are being discriminated against and that is our job to identify these things,” Gonzalez said.

Another issue is the need for funding to meet the state legislation’s proposed requirements to combat anti-bias. The bills set new benchmarks for additional anti-bias training for new and renewed real estate licenses, increase fines for cases of discrimination and more undercover investigations of real estate activities by the Attorney General.