New Investigation Finds Evidence of Discrimination by Long Island Real Estate Agents

A newly released investigation by Newsdayfound evidence that real estate agents on Long Island, New York were giving unequal treatment to potential home buyers of different races.

Newsday conducted 86 matching tests involving two undercover testers of different races but with similar financial profiles and identical terms for homes in the same areas.

The three-year investigation revealed Blacks experienced disparate treatment nearly half of the time they enlist real estate agents. Hispanic and Asian buyers also experienced discrimination.

According to Newsday, the investigation also discovered that key brokering firms on Long Island “help solidify racial separations.”

Real estate agents were found to avoid business in minority communities and tended to direct white customers to areas with high white populations. The investigation found evidence in 40 percent of the tests that suggested real estate agents subjected Black, Hispanic and Asian testers to different treatment than their white counterparts.

Report Breakdown By The Numbers

  • Newsday conducted 86 matching tests — which included two undercover testers of different races — from the New York City line (west) to the Hamptons (east) and from the Long Island Sound (north) to the South Shore (south). Thirty-nine pairs involved Black and white testers, 31 involved Hispanic and white testers and the final 16 paired Asian and white testers.

  • In 40 percent of the tests, evidence showed brokers subjected testers of color to different treatment than white testers.

  • Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49 percent of the time, Hispanic testers 39 percent of the time and Asian testers 19 percent of the time.

  • In 8 percent of the tests, agents imposed more stringent conditions on minority testers. For example, agents refused to provide home listings or tours to minority testers until they met financial qualifications that were not required of white testers.

  • In 24 percent of the tests, agents directed white testers and minority testers to different communities. The incidents appeared to reflect “steering,” which is the illegal sorting of potential home buyers based on race or ethnicity.

  • Agents gave an average of50 percent more listings to white testers than to Black testers. This was not the case in paired testing with other minorities.

  • Agents were more likely to give minorities listings in areas with 20 percent or less white population. When the white population reached 56 percent of a community, agents were more likely to give those listings to white testers.

Why It Matters

Newsday’s investigation is far from the first time that discrimination against Black and other minority buyers has been shown. An analysis by The Guardian’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in January 2019 found that African Americans were being denied mortgages at much higher rates than white people despite the Fair Housing Act.

Taylor pointed to Philadelphia where African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be rejected for mortgages than white people. As a result, there is a large gap between Black homeownership (44 percent) and white homeownership (69 percent), The Guardian reported.

The January report also found that African Americans are more likely to suffer due to rising rent prices. A Harvard study revealed that between 2010 and 2017 prices “in poor urban neighborhoods rose 50 percent faster than in rich neighborhoods,” according to The Guardian.

Despite the Fair Housing Act’s clear guidelines to avoid segregation and other discrimination in housing, real estate agents in Newsday’s investigation appeared to direct white buyers to certain communities, while directing equally qualified Black, Hispanic or Asian buyers to other areas. This practice is called steering and is illegal.

“I would have no idea that, without this testing, that there was even a difference between what was provided. My assumption would be that everybody would be provided with the same listings based on their economic and geographic requirements,” Hofstra University Professor Martine Hackett, who is Black and participated as a tester, told Newsday.

Hackett continued, “To sort of have the options to be limited in that way sort of makes me think about what options are available that people might not know about. And who’s making those choices? That’s the other thing that I feel, is that the choice, in terms of the choice of what would be theoretically the best choice for me and my family, was sort of removed.” Hackett did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for additional comment.

In a statement to The North Star, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said, "Combating housing discrimination is at the forefront of our Department’s enforcement priorities. Our Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is looking into the findings as reported by Newsday.”

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act, or Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits discrimination of any individual renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or other housing-related activities based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familiar status and disability. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and as a memorial to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., according to HUD.

Under the Trump administration, HUD Secretary Ben Carson has worked to weaken the Fair Housing Act. In August 2018, Carson proposed changing an Obama-era rule that fought segregation in housing policy. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule implemented in 2015 required communities and local governments that received federal funding to submit fair housing assessments, NPR reported.

Carson’s change proposal for the AFFH came after the housing agency announced in January 2018 that it suspended local government’s obligation to comply with AFFH until late 2020. In May of that year, the agency also eliminated a computer assessment tool aimed to help communities submit housing data and make sure they were complying with federal regulations.

The housing secretary has continued dismantling Obama-era policies put in place to combat discrimination in housing. In August 2019, HUD revealed a proposal to overhaul the Disparate Impact rule of 2013, which established uniform standards for the application of disparate impact, according to Curbed. Disparate impact is the idea that a policy can discriminate despite not being its intent. Fair Housing advocates claimed that the change in the rule would make housing discrimination lawsuits “impossible,” Curbed reported.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia, Australia and the Americas.