Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cuomo Will Use Undercover Agents To Root Out Housing Discrimination 

Governor Cuomo has announced new steps toward combating housing discrimination, and will deploy a group of fair housing "testers," acting as potential renters, to root out biased, law-breaking landlords and sellers.

Dubbed the Fair Housing Enforcement Program, Cuomo's plan will send teams of undercover testers to offer real estate agents competing applications, posing with similar incomes and jobs. Any disparity in the treatment they receive will be documented and analyzed by the program. The Daily News reports that the testers will come from three state-hired fair housing agencies, and "will be of different racial, gender and economic backgrounds. Some will be persons with disabilities."

"The simple, painful truth is that for all our progress in creating a better society, discrimination is still alive and well in America today," Cuomo said. "These actions will hold housing providers accountable—and we will not hesitate to crack down on those who break the law. We will do everything we can to root out discrimination where it shows its ugly presence in order to create stronger and more inclusive communities statewide."

Cuomo's program will work to strip discriminating real estate agents, housing providers, landlords and managing agents, and brokers of their licenses.

During a speech at Covenant Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, during which the new program was formally announced, the Governor deployed tough rhetoric. "[T[here will be people who will be unhappy because it's going to be disruptive to a lot of the big players in the housing industry who like it the way they now have it and who aren't going to want to deal with these issues." He continued: But that is what it is. It's about aggressive government and it is about working for a more just society."

In addition to the undercover testers, Cuomo has called for the new, stricter regulations from the Division of Human Rights and the Department of State, but has yet to specify what that might entail.

In late 2015, an investigation found both rampant housing discrimination against homeless New Yorkers and anemic enforcement of the laws meant to protect them. Hasidic real estate developers in Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy have previously been accused of deliberately keeping out black and and Latino renters, a stark violation of the Fair Housing Act. And on a related note, a Harvard study found that Airbnb hosts are on average less welcoming to potential guests with "distinctively African-American names."


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