View Full Version : Long Island Housing Discrimination

February 22nd, 2004, 06:03 AM
February 22, 2004

Open Arms, Closed Doors and Racism


BLACKS and Hispanics in Nassau County are often discriminated against when searching for apartments to rent, while whites generally receive much better treatment from real estate agents, according to a housing study released earlier this month by a local community group.

The report compiled by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - an advocacy group for low-income families known by its acronym Acorn - found that while white testers sent into real estate agencies were told there were apartments available 93 percent of the time, black and Hispanic testers were told the same thing only 53 percent of the time. And while nearly a third of the minority testers were steered to different, usually less affluent areas, only 2 percent of the white testers were referred elsewhere.

"This kind of thing is done under the cover of darkness and people don't talk about it even though they know it goes on," said Bertha Lewis, executive director of New York Acorn. "We're never looking for people to treat us badly, but now we have documented it and we have the data to prove it."

Acorn's report is the first to detail housing discrimination on Long Island since a 2002 study comparing rates of integration ranked Long Island as the nation's most segregated suburban area. Acorn officials said they decided to send testers out in the spring and fall of 2003 in part because of that dubious distinction, but also because their members had long shared tales of housing discrimination on the Island.

Several of the brokers named in the study denied that they ever discriminated against minorities and questioned Acorn's methods and its objectivity. But state officials promised to evaluate Acorn's findings and take any appropriate action. Fair housing and civil rights advocates praised the study, saying it provides clear evidence of a reality that has long existed on Long Island.

"The study reinforces what people in the African-American and Hispanic communities have been aware of and spoken about for a long time, but what many other people have turned a deaf ear to," said Frederick K. Brewington, a civil rights lawyer who has tried many housing discrimination cases on Long Island.

Acorn surveyed 16 real estate agencies in Nassau County and found that 11 "exhibited persistent discriminatory behavior." Acorn chose agencies that had rental listings and that operated in predominantly white areas. White testers made 79 visits and minority testers made 85 visits for a total of 164 visits.

Each Acorn tester recorded whether they met with an agent, whether they were told about or shown an apartment, and whether they were referred to a different neighborhood. Minority and white testers were paired and sent to the same agency either on the same day or within eight days of their partner's visit.

Brendan Wheeler is a white Brooklyn resident who said he made "between six and eight" visits for the study. One of them, he said, was to Garden City Properties, where he asked for a one-bedroom apartment for up to $2,000 a month and was shown two apartments, one for $1,850 and another for $1,950.

A few days later, Alan Conner, a black Freeport resident, was sent to the same agency, also seeking a one-bedroom under $2,000 a month. He was told nothing was available in Garden City and instead was shown a one-bedroom in West Hempstead for $1,100. Mr. Wheeler was then told by Acorn to call the agency and find out if the Garden City apartments he saw were still available and he was told three days after his visit that the $1,950 apartment was still available.

Mr. Conner said that when he left the agency, "I didn't feel I was discriminated against blatantly, but the fact that the agent didn't offer me anything other than West Hempstead made me wonder." When he later learned that the white tester had been treated differently, he said, "You don't want to really believe it, but I'm not a fool. I know discrimination exists and it was totally blatant here."

Acorn's results mirror those found in 2000 by Long Island Housing Services, a fair housing association based in Bohemia, when it tested real estate agencies across Long Island as part of a national survey on housing discrimination for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the 2000 study involving 180 visits, 90 by whites and 90 by non-whites, minorities encountered discrimination between 22 and 26 percent of the time nationally. But Michelle Santantonio, the executive director of Long Island Housing Services, said its research found that the rate on Long Island was closer to 50 percent.

Ms. Santantonio said she was pleased that another organization had tested for housing discrimination. "Depending on the strength of the evidence and how carefully it was documented, they should be able to use it to prove some complaints," she said. HUD rules prohibit her organization from using the evidence it gathered in 2000 because it was to be used only for research, she said.

Acorn officials said they would pursue the discrimination they uncovered through state and county agencies, and Ms. Lewis added that if necessary they would also file discrimination lawsuits against the real estate agencies. "The real estate industry on Long Island is powerful and no one has challenged them about their practices," she said. "But if we have to, we will litigate and take these people to court."

Officials from a number of state and county agencies, including the attorney general's office, the state Division of Human Rights, the Department of State and the county's housing and homeless programs, said last week that they would carefully review Acorn's results. "This is alarming if it's true, and it's definitely something we'd be interested in looking into," said Juanita Scarlett, a spokeswoman for Eliot Spitzer, the state attorney general.

At the Department of State, which oversees the licensing of real estate brokers, Peter Constantakes, a spokesman, said: "The department will not tolerate discrimination by any licensed real estate agent. If the allegations are proven to be true, it will take appropriate action."

Connie Lassandro, director of the county's Section 8 housing and homeless intervention programs, said that while the county has no enforcement power over federal or state fair-housing laws, she would review Acorn's report and make recommendations for possible change in the county's housing discrimination law. "Racial discrimination is not something we want to hear is happening in our county, so to the extent we have the capability, we will address it," she said.

Representatives of the Long Island Board of Realtors, an industry association, and of several of the real estate agencies named in Acorn's report expressed dismay at the results. "It comes as a surprise to me," said Howard Goldson, legal counsel to the industry group. "If you would have asked me 15 years ago, you would have had a different answer, but today realtors generally offer housing on an equal basis to all people."

He added that information on what must be done to avoid housing discrimination is part of real estate agents' licensing courses. "We have a code of ethics that we subscribe to and we have been against this type of housing discrimination for as long as I can remember," he said.

Several of the agencies that performed poorly in the study reacted angrily and accused Acorn of using unfair tactics.

"To me, it's all a lie," said Silvana Bosco, owner of Bosco Realty in Franklin Square, which registered a 100 percent rate of discrimination in the study. "I don't discriminate and I have no reason to believe they were ever in my office."

Acorn said it sent five black or Hispanic testers and four white testers to Bosco and reported that all the whites were told about available apartments and were shown apartments, while none of the minorities were told about or shown apartments.

Anne Hagen, the owner of Anne Hagen's Village Realty in Garden City, said she believed Acorn had distorted facts. The study found that her agency offered to show apartments to whites 55 percent more often than to non-whites and that whites were told about apartments 36 percent more often than non-whites.

Ms. Hagen said she recalled telling a Caucasian couple about an available one-bedroom rental for $1,500 a month and then telling a black couple that there were no apartments available because the black couple had asked for a two-bedroom for $1,200.

"But that was only because the Caucasian couple had the price spending power and the blacks didn't," she said. "Everybody is purple as far as I'm concerned. If you have the money to pay the rents I have available, I'll rent it to you. I think they set me up."

But Ann Sullivan, the director of the Long Island chapter of Acorn, which oversaw the study, said its minority and non-minority testers were careful to roughly match their incomes and requests and that the couples Ms. Hagen recalled were probably not Acorn testers. To prevent agents from becoming suspicious that they were being tested, paired testers might not have reported identical incomes or said they were able to afford the same amount in rent, she said, but the figures would always be close. She also said that testers, particularly minority testers, were told to be flexible about what they could afford, so if a broker said nothing was available at their original limit, testers were told to say they could afford to pay a little more.

"We would never send people into Garden City asking for a $1,200 apartment," Ms. Sullivan said. "And we usually erred on the side of safety and had African-American testers be able to afford to pay more."

Bert Donley, a partner at Garden City Properties, said he believed Acorn's study was flawed because it clearly set out to prove a long-held stereotype that Garden City is racist. "It was a hatchet job on Garden City and they were trying to make Garden City realtors to be big offenders when we're not, and that's not honest," he said.

The report was skewed, he said, because it also mentioned discrimination at Garden City schools and at a village park that borders with Hempstead and has a sign declaring it is open only for residents' use. In the case of the schools, black and white testers went to schools asking for school registration papers, and the report cites an incident in which a black man was told he could not pick up forms for his own grandchildren, but a white tester was given forms for her "cousins by marriage."

The Garden City schools superintendent, Stephen Leitman, declined to comment on the report.

In the case of the village park, the report said that the Garden City police asked black preschool children to leave a park because they clearly were not Garden City residents, while white parkgoers were not even approached to determine their residency. "This incident is frighteningly reminiscent of the Jim Crow South," the report states.

Robert Schoelle, the village manager, said he was not aware of the incident but added that "most if not all villages have signs restricting parks and playgrounds to residents only."

Mr. Donley, whose agency was found to have apprised whites about available apartments 18 percent more often than non-whites, said his agency has never before been cited for discrimination. He also said he would be more inclined to believe a HUD-sponsored study, "where they send in testers who are trained, not volunteers with an ax to grind."

Mr. Brewington, the civil rights lawyer, said he had reviewed Acorn's procedures and believed they were sound. "Whether they're an advocacy group or not has nothing to do with the facts," he said. "What you find is what you find."

Ms. Santantonio of Long Island Housing Services said her agency dealt with 65 to 150 allegations of housing discrimination from across the Island every year, many of them with circumstances similar to those encountered by Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Conner.

She added, though, that discrimination is probably grossly underreported because even if a minority renter feels discriminated against, he or she may be more concerned with finding a place to live than with the need to document the discrimination and pursue a complaint. "People also may rather self-segregate and look only in areas where they wouldn't be made to feel unwelcome just to avoid the possibility of discrimination," she said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

January 26th, 2005, 11:48 AM
January 23, 2005


A Durable Stain

It has been 60 years since the rise of Levittown, and Long Island is still as segregated as an Eisenhower-era TV dinner: white turkey slices and mashed potatoes in the big compartments, green peas and fruit cup in the corners, shiny aluminum keeping everything in its place.

The entrenched racial divisions in our subdivisions are not an accident or act of God. Whites-only deed restrictions and exclusionary zoning rules helped to lay the boundary lines; inertia and human nature have done the rest. The era of overtly discriminatory housing policies may be over, but the unbearable whiteness of certain Long Island communities - and the brownness of others - attest to the stubborn endurance of Long Island's original sin. The system is reinforced today by real estate agents who act as self-appointed guardians of the status quo - a sort of Nimby early-warning system for all supposed threats to property values, school test scores, racial homogeneity and other benchmarks of suburban status.

At a news conference last week, Acorn, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, made the depressing but unsurprising charge that racial steering persists on Long Island, which academics and advocacy groups have called the most segregated suburban area in America. Lawsuits by Acorn against four local real estate companies charge that black and Hispanic people who asked about renting apartments in white neighborhoods like Garden City were ignored, lied to or urged to go away. According to Acorn, white applicants who called or visited these companies - Garden City Properties and Anne Hagen's Village Realty in Garden City, Jimco Century 21 in Glen Cove and Bosco Realty in Franklin Square - enjoyed all the courtesies accorded potential customers, while black and Hispanic applicants were frequently told that apartments were unavailable or that they should look somewhere else.

It is hardly surprising that some real estate companies would choose not to fight Long Island's system of functional apartheid but would try to use it to their advantage. Like car salesmen, real estate agents scramble to make a living selling expensive products to wary customers who routinely hire outside specialists to test the veracity of the sales pitches. But the fact that they live in a high-pressure world does not relieve them of their obligation to obey the law, which is clear on matters of fair housing and civil rights.

The accusations raised by Acorn, the result of more than a year of effort done in the best tradition of grass-roots advocacy, deserve thorough investigation by state licensing officials, the Division of Human Rights and the attorney general's office.

An Opportunity Missed

In many places on Long Island, the demographics are so entrenched they seem embedded in the local geology - like lush Garden City, the very definition of a wealthy white enclave of single-family homes, and its racially diverse, working-class neighbor Hempstead.

This is why we so regret the impending sale by Nassau County of a property it owns in Garden City. It is a rare opportunity to upset the status quo - an opportunity for integration that has been missed.

The building, which houses the Social Services Department, is one of several decaying government properties that the county executive, Thomas Suozzi, wants to sell to help put the county's finances in order. It is a large, prime parcel, easily worth tens of millions of dollars.

To make the sale go through, Mr. Suozzi needed Garden City's approval to rezone the lot to residential use. He made his case at a series of public meetings - and ran smack into the Nimby beast.

Many villagers seemed terrified that residential zoning would mean "affordable housing" and that affordable housing, in turn, would attract people like those next door in Hempstead. Minutes of meetings show that speakers insistently sought assurances that any new housing would be "upscale" and in keeping with the "character" of their hamlet.

Mr. Suozzi has spoken often and urgently about the shortage of housing in the county that working-class people, young married couples and the elderly can afford. He could have insisted on inclusionary zoning - requiring that any sale of the social services building stipulate that some percentage of housing units built there be sold at below-market prices. He could have made the case, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once did, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and that in cramped, heavily developed Nassau, any opportunity for affordable housing units is one to jump at.

He chose not to.

"We're absolutely not interested in building affordable housing there," Mr. Suozzi assured Garden City residents at a public hearing last Feb. 5. "There is a great need for affordable housing, but Garden City is not the location for it."

Mr. Suozzi, who has made a career of opposing the status quo, stood up for segregation as usual in Garden City. Nassau County is a poorer place for it.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

November 14th, 2007, 10:32 AM
I've done some research on the matter that long island is the most racially segregated suburb in America. Being a student and living on long island it sparked some interest. I'm writing an article for Nassau news on the housing discrimination and I was looking for more information, if anyone has more information or would like to comment or has been effect by housing discrimination please let me know. You can post on this site or reach me at my e-mail, Nmarto2@pride.hofstra.edu. Thanks for your help.