The New York Department of State has launched 132 investigations into housing bias, which include allegations from Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” report.

Almost two years after Newsday’s groundbreaking ‘Long Island Divided’ report, 18 real estate agents are at risk of losing their licensure for violating fair housing regulations during the publication’s three-year undercover investigation.

First reported by Newsday on April 9, the New York Department of State (NYDS) is making good on its promise to crack down on fair housing violations after the New York State Senate released a scathing report about housing discrimination in January. The NYDS has launched 132 investigations of agents, brokers and real estate instructors, 52 of which are directly related to the ‘Long Island Divided’ report.

Alfred Fazio | Credit: LinkedIn

“What we’ve seen in the past year or so is an increase in the number of government agencies who have started to take an active role in enforcement,” lawyer and New York State Association of Realtors instructor Alfred Fazio told Newsday. “The message is clear that systemic racism does exist … [and] it’s not going to be tolerated, and appropriate action is going to be taken.”

So far, NYDS has only revoked Anne Marie Queally Bechand’s license — the first agent since 1997 to lose their license due to fair housing violations. Queally Bechand was featured in the Newsday report for her treatment of Black undercover testers, who she required to provide prequalification letters before showing listings. Queally Bechand didn’t have the same standards for white testers, to who she agreed to show listings without prequalification.

As for the other 131 agents under the spotlight, three cases have been closed, as one agent is deceased and the other’s license is two years past due. Another three agents have appealed their license revocation, alongside three real estate instructors who deny violating New York State’s three-hour fair housing training minimum.

Of the 18 agents featured in the Newsday investigation, only four agents have had hearings. The others’ hearings are scheduled from April through June, where the NYDS will decide whether to renew their licenses, suspend them or permanently revoke them.

Jonathan Smith | Credit: Twitter

“Combating housing discrimination is an incredibly important priority for the agency,” Division of Human Rights interim commissioner Johnathan Smith said of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that the state can revoke real estate licenses as a violation of human rights law. “We can and we should evaluate what’s happening in those cases [to see] if there are changes or efficiencies or other tweaks we can make to our process to get to a more just outcome.”

In November 2019, Newsday released ‘Long Island Divided,’ a three-year investigative report that revealed a portion of the alleged, long-standing discrimination homebuyers and homesellers of color experienced in the area. Twenty-five trained testers met with 93 real estate agents to inquire about purchasing a home.

The results shocked the industry, as agents discriminated against Black testers 49 percent of the time, Hispanic testers 39 percent of the time, and Asian testers 19 percent of the time. Examples of discrimination included asking testers of color to prove their financial qualification (e.g. prequalification letters, etc.) and steering white testers from majority-minority neighborhoods and vice versa.

In the 17 months since the report New York State legislators have held multiple hearings about Newsday‘s findings, one of which where Coldwell Banker CEO M. Ryan Gorman was the sole attendee. The New York Division of Human Rights has also been charged with speeding up complaint settlements, which took an average of 199 days according to Newsday. 

Some of the nation’s largest brokerages doubled down on their commitment to diversity and creating more robust discrimination policies, while The National Association of Realtors enhanced its fair housing training. NAR President Charlie Oppler also issued a landmark apology for the associations’ past support of redlining and other discriminatory practices.

“What Realtors did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals. It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality. I’m here today, as the President of the National Association of Realtors, to say that we were wrong,” Oppler said in a November press release. “We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past, but we can look at this problem squarely in the eye. And, on behalf of our industry, we can say that what Realtors did was shameful, and we are sorry.”

“Because of our past mistakes, the real estate industry has a special role to play in the fight for fair housing,” he added.

This month is the 53rd anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and family status. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination has launched a month-long celebration with access to free training for real estate professionals.

Email Marian McPherson

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