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The Big Apple Undercover: Combating Housing Discrimination
April 6, 2021

The Big Apple Undercover: Combating Housing Discrimination

by The CE Shop Team

Go Undercover for New York’s New Program

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new program this year that will utilize undercover renters to find unlawful housing discrimination in New York. The program will operate through New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), who is teaming up with nonprofit groups in the area to dispatch trained fair-housing testers to act as interested renters. The aim is to uncover and investigate discriminatory treatment by either sellers, brokers, or landlords across the state.

“Every New Yorker has the right to live in the community of their choice without fear of discriminatory treatment,” said Gov. Cuomo in a press release. “New York’s prohibition of discrimination in home rental and sale transactions isn’t just a suggestion - it’s the law - and any unscrupulous agents who break that law must be held accountable.”

The mission of this new program is part of a larger focus from the state to combat redlining and segregated sections of the state by helping borrowers in need.

New York’s Bumpy Fair Housing History

The U.S. enacted legislation 50 years ago to prohibit racial discrimination in accessing housing. Even after five decades, New York remains a diverse but segregated city. Mayor Bill de Blasio has stressed his commitment to end racial and economic inequality within New York’s housing sector. Yet, efforts by local officials have continued to fall short as the issue of affordable housing has continued to affect low-income residents. While some strides toward equality have been successful, as seen in the increased wages for Black workers, other indicators, like Black homeownership rates, are virtually unchanged from homeownership rates in 1968 - meaning that there’s still far to go in this worthy fight for equality and equity for all.

Outside of the city, New York’s suburbs are also subject to questionable fair housing efforts. Long Island has been one of the most racially segregated suburbs in the nation, and a report released in January by the State Senate reviewed evidence of discrimination in real estate practices there.

The report was in part fueled by Newsday's Long Island Divided series that executed a three-year investigation using undercover homebuyers to find what the report described as "evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island."

New York’s Fight for Tenant Protections

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In 2019, New York enacted the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Acts in an effort to create new tenant protections by banning income discrimination and prohibiting housing providers from denying people applying for housing based on negative credit or prior criminal convictions.

“In New York, we will continue to build more inclusive communities by ensuring fair access to housing opportunities,” said HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “[We] will make it clear that housing providers must obey the law or be held accountable. With housing insecurity on the rise, we must do all we can to protect New Yorkers from housing discrimination.”

How This New Undercover Program Works

The new program started this month along with new regulations from the state. HCR finalized contracts with six nonprofit organizations to organize and execute this program in NYC, Long Island, Westchester County, Central New York, and Western New York. Thanks to the investigate series in Long Island, there’s proven success in this strategy, and HCR has a model to follow.

“These new actions build on our ongoing efforts to stop illegal housing practices by finding those bad actors who are subjecting potential renters and buyers to discrimination and putting them on notice, while also making sure real estate appraisers receive the proper training to make fair and unbiased decisions,” said Gov. Cuomo.

New Regulations’ Impact on Real Estate

New regulations were also announced that will now require licensed appraisers to receive training on fair housing and fair lending as part of their Continuing Education requirements. These regulations are designed to work in tandem with the undercover program in an effort to combat housing discrimination through education and awareness.

You can do your part in your local market by always exercising fair and equal treatment to all your clients, as well as being an advocate through education and awareness. If you suspect or witness unlawful housing discrimination, contact the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office at 212.416.8250 or by emailing Civil.Rights@AG.NY.gov.

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