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'People Don’t Realize They’ve Been Discriminated Against’: Suffolk Task Force Calls For Fair Housing

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Image by Public Co from Pixabay

A new report from the Suffolk County Fair Housing Task Force recommends lawmakers increase the undercover testing of real estate agents to address housing discrimination on Long Island. The region is among the top 10 most segregated counties in the country, according to ERASE Racism, a nonprofit dedicated to combating systemic racism.

Under the proposal, the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission would receive $12,000 to conduct the testing, which would require sending a white prospective homebuyer and homebuyer of color into the field to determine if real estate agents are engaging in discrimination.

Elaine Gross, the president of ERASE Racism, said these investigations are essential in order for residents to fully understand the biases they may be subjected to.

“People don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against unless they know what happened to the white person who asked for the same thing,” she said.

The task force, which is made up of 14 people from county government, real estate and community advocacy, recommends that the agents should face increased fines and other penalties in a proposed ranking system if they violate fair housing laws.

Suffolk County Legislator Samuel Gonzalez, who chairs the taskforce, said action on the recommendations is imperative, especially after a long history of racial segregation throughout the region.

“We have to protect the residents of Suffolk County, our minority and our African Americans that were being steered,” he said. “We have the right based on our finances to purchase a home wherever we want to, not where they want us to be put.”

The report also requested $50,000 to fund administrative law judges for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, which was only able to hear six housing discrimintion cases last year out of several inquiries.

Other recommendations include changes to zoning laws that would combat redlining and segregation by allowing diversified housing options, such as multi-generational homes and apartments in neighborhoods that traditionally house single family homes. Also, any town that violates fair housing laws would not receive Community Development Block Grant for housing development from the county.

The task force also wants to add those with prior criminal convictions and limited English proficiency speakers as protected classes under the current discrimination laws. They further suggested the county implement public service annoucements in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole to ensure residents are educated on what housing discrimination looks like.

Gonzalez said he will propose legislation based on the recommendations, and is hopeful they will become law.

“I'm very confident that I believe it will be passed and if certain resolutions don't, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop,” he said. “We are going to move forward.”

Leah is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.