Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today delivered remarks at the New York State Senate’s joint public hearing on housing discrimination on Long Island. The hearing is a direct response to a Newsday investigation that determined evidence of disparate treatment of minority home buyers and minority communities on Long Island. County Executive Bellone was the first elected official in the State to announce actions designed to combat the alleged housing discrimination.
The plan includes partnering with a qualified organization to conduct housing discrimination investigations, hiring an additional investigator for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission to examine alleged fair housing violations, convening stakeholders to identify solutions to ensure better compliance of federal and New York state guidelines for real estate agents, and an increased focus on public education and training. As part of the plan, County Executive Bellone will work with State legislators to amend state law to require additional training for real estate professionals in the concentration of fair housing and discrimination, along with a review of the current curriculum and compliance, and the creation of a consumer Bill of Rights.
The County Executive’s remarks as prepared are available below:
Good morning. Chairman Thomas, Chairman Skoufis, Chairman Kavanaugh, I want to thank you and the members of the New York State Senate Majority for inviting me to speak before you today.
We are all aware of the Newsday investigation that brought the issue of housing discrimination out of the shadows on Long Island. The results of this three-year investigation were disturbing and unacceptable. Using paired testers, Newsday found instances where real estate agents provided unequal treatment based on race in seemingly clear violation of Fair Housing Laws.
Almost immediately after this report was published, we took corrective action. My staff has met with the New York State Attorney General to discuss how we can improve enforcement capabilities.
I also announced that Suffolk County would initiate a four-point plan to combat housing discrimination.
First, we will be strengthening our ability to conduct housing discrimination investigations. We are issuing a Request for Proposals to select a qualified organization to partner with to enforce Fair Housing laws including funding the kind of testing that was employed in the Newsday investigation.
Second, we are expanding the capabilities of our Human Rights Commission. I have authorized the hiring of an additional investigator for the purpose of examining alleged fair housing violations. We will add additional investigators as warranted by the caseload. Suffolk County is also in the process of hiring three Administrative Law Judges to expedite claims of housing discrimination.
Third, we will issue a Request for Qualifications to partner with organizations to provide education and training. We want the general public to understand fair Housing laws and what housing discrimination looks like and where to go when you have experienced it.
Fourth, knowing that this problem cannot be solved alone we have begun reaching out to leading industry stakeholders, including the Long Island Board of Realtors, to begin the process of identifying solutions that would help ensure better compliance of federal and New York state guidelines for its real estate agents.
On the state level, I believe that we need a Consumer Bill of Rights regarding fair housing and interaction with real estate brokers and mortgage lenders. There are currently several bills pending in the State Legislature that consider this concept, and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with members of the State Senate to discuss ideas to better inform potential homebuyers.
Currently, real estate professionals are required to complete a total of 22.5 hours of continuing education, with only three hours of instruction concentrated in fair housing and discrimination. This investigation highlights the need to thoroughly examine all aspects of the state’s education and training requirements and standards.
I want to again thank you for coming here today. There are many advocates that have been working on this issue for a number of years to addressed unfair and biased treatment. But now is not the time to look back, it is the time to move forward. We have to address this challenge on a regional basis, and I want to thank my colleague to the west, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, for also speaking out. Please continue to utilize me as a resource, a partner, and together we will work to break down barriers and create equal opportunity.