Opening Acts: November 18, 2019

Newsday ‘s “Long Island Divided” Details Racially Discriminatory Sales Practices

FHJC CALLS ON NYS DIVISION OF LICENSING SERVICES TO INVESTIGATE CONDUCT OF REAL ESTATE LICENSEES TESTED

On November 17, Newsday, which has the largest circulation of any suburban newspaper in the nation, released the results of a three-year undercover investigation into real estate sales practices on Long Island. The investigation involved sending teams of paired testers to offices of real estate companies on Long Island.
 
FHJC’s Role
 
In December 2015, Newsday contracted with the FHJC to help train testers, establish testing protocols, and assist with the coordination of some of the early tests. After March 2017, the Fair Housing Justice Center’s Executive Director Fred Freiberg continued to consult on the project on an unpaid basis. Freiberg, a nationally known expert on testing, and Robert Schwemm of the University of Kentucky Law School, the nation’s top legal scholar on fair housing, served as experts and provided commentary on the test results.
 
The Investigation
 
Newsday’s investigation employed an investigative tool known as paired testing. White testers were matched with African American, Hispanic, and Asian testers on all personal, socio-economic, and home buying characteristics so that the primary difference between the testers was their race and/or national origin. The twenty-five testers who participated in the investigation contacted 93 real estate agents affiliated with twelve large realty companies. The realty firms selected for testing represented over half of all home sellers on Long Island in 2017.
 
A total of 86 tests were completed and all of the tests were recorded. In response to testers inquiring about buying a home, testers received a total of 5,763 home listings. The testing made it possible to compare the number of home listings provided to each tester, where the homes were located, and other differences in service.
 
The Results
 
Differential treatment was observed on 40% of the tests conducted. Asian testers experienced disparate treatment 19% of the time, Hispanics 39% of the time, and African Americans 49% of the time. The recordings revealed evidence that some agents engaged in “racial steering” or provided other differential treatment. Agents also failed to serve predominantly minority communities on Long Island.
 
FHJC President Robert Martin stated “We applaud Newsday for devoting the resources needed to successfully implement an investigation of this magnitude. We also commend the entire investigative team including the accomplished Newsday journalists who worked on this project for their thoroughness, dedication, and objectivity. While I’m proud that the FHJC was able to assist Newsday with this investigation, I’m deeply saddened, though not surprised, by the results. The investigation provided compelling evidence that our fair housing laws are not being vigorously enforced and that many within the real estate industry are still choosing to disregard their legal responsibilities with impunity.” Martin added, “While we have a number of policy recommendations we plan to release soon to respond to the results of this investigation, the FHJC immediately calls upon the Division of Licensing Services (DLS) for the New York Department of State to open an investigation and review the recordings of the real estate licensees tested to determine whether any disciplinary action is warranted.”
 
The online version of the story includes an enormous amount of additional material, including a 40-minute documentary entitled “Testing the Divide,” a number of shorter sub-topic videos, over 50 pages of articles that appeared in Newsday on November 17 and 18, interactive maps, and details about all of the tests conducted including full access to the unedited video recordings of the tests.
 
To reach the widest audience possible with this landmark report, Newsday has removed its customary online paywall for this story. Readers can access the documentary and the report for free at https://projects.newsday.com/long-island/real-estate-agents-investigation/ .
 
The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.