A three-year investigation into housing discrimination by “Newsday” has elicited strong reactions from the real estate industry.

A groundbreaking, three-year investigation by Long Island newspaper Newsday uncovered multiple instances of discriminatory practices after testing nearly 100 real estate agents and secretly recording hundreds of hours of conversations while looking at the listings of more than 5,000 homes.

The investigation has greater implications outside of Long Island, as industry leaders are taking notice and government regulators are investigating industry practices in the wake of the bombshell report.

Glenn Kelman | Photo credit: Redfin

The multiple bylined story found that 19 percent of the time, Asians were discriminated against, 39 percent of the time Hispanics were discriminated against and 49 percent of the time, black consumers were discriminated against.

Agents associated with multiple brokerages were accused of steering the undercover investigators to neighborhoods that matched their own race or ethnicity and often subjected minority investigators to more restrictive conditions prior to viewing properties.

The investigation has elicited strong reactions from the community, including a Twitter thread from Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, a company that has been vocal about addressing housing discrimination.

“This could happen at any brokerage,” Kelman wrote. “We all have agents who are biased, whether the agents realize it or not. If you’re a broker, send this research to every agent at your company. Highlight the key findings. Set a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination.”

Real estate agents also reacted strongly to the piece. Some questioned why the agents at the center of this investigation weren’t dropped from their respective brokerages.

The investigation focused on the following brands: Douglas Elliman, Century 21 Real Estate, Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc., Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage on Long Island, Coach Realtors, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, Laffey Fine Homes, Keller Williams Realty, The Corcoran Group, Signature Premier Properties, Realty Connect USA and RE/MAX LLC.

Only Corcoran and Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty were the two brokerages where no discrimination was reported.

Chavi Holm | Photo credit: Chavi Holm

“Frankly if I was a Black person and wanted to buy a home in this country I would question the need and role of a REALTOR in the transaction,” Chavi Holm, an agent at team leader at Team Diva Real Estate and Coldwell Banker Bain, wrote in a comment on Facebook.

“You have a 47 perent chance of being discriminated against per this article,” Holm added. “Disruption happens when the foundations we have created purposely do not serve the greater public. If you are a [person of color] home buyer or seller you are not being served on the same levels as your white peers by the leadership and members in our industry.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James – who used to publish a list of New York City’s worst landlords annually as New York City Public Advocate – also announced her office would be looking into the allegations of discrimination.

“Fair access to housing is a basic civil right that all New Yorkers, including Long Island residents, are entitled to,” James said in a statement. “The pattern of discrimination uncovered by Newsday’s intrepid reporting raises significant concerns and calls for action.”

“I have directed the Civil Rights Bureau in my office to investigate these serious allegations and we encourage Long Island residents to report any instances of housing discrimination,” James added. “We will do everything in our power under the law to protect the civil rights of New Yorkers and ensure that no one is denied housing based on their personal background.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James | Photo credit: New York State Attorney General

The Fair Housing Act, passed as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act, makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin in the renting or selling of housing. The legislation just celebrated its 50th anniversary. 

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, tasked with enforcing the Fair Housing Act along with the U.S. Department of Justice, has set its sights on rolling back certain anti-discrimination protections.

In January of this year, HUD said it planned to suspend the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) mandate by Oct. 31, 2020. The mandate requires state and local governments to correct segregated housing patterns and conduct fair housing assessments to receive HUD block grants, which can be used to fund residential and non-residential building projects.

HUD also announced in August, that its proposing changes to the 2013 “disparate impact rule,” new guidelines that activists argue will make it easier for businesses and landlords to discriminate and harder for tenants to bring housing discrimination suits.

The National Association of Realtors, meanwhile, has codified anti-discrimination practices in its code of ethics.

“Realtors shall not print, display or circulate any statement or advertisement with respect to selling or renting of a property that indicates any preference, limitations or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” the NAR Code of Ethics reads.

At the association’s annual board of directors meeting in San Francisco this year, NAR’s board of directors voted to require NAR’s 1.3 million members to complete training on the Realtor Code of Ethics every three years instead of every two years and that the current two-year cycle end on Dec. 31, 2021.

Email Patrick Kearns

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