NY Attorney General Launches Program To Uncover Housing Bias
New York Attorney General Letitia James is launching a program that will test whether real estate companies and agents treat prospective homebuyers differently based on race and other related factors.
The program will use undercover testers to determine if fair housing laws are being followed in New York.
Grants of up to $250,000 will be awarded to nonprofits and local government agencies that provide services to guide and support prospective homebuyers. This includes responding to complaints about housing bias and enforcing fair housing laws. The grants will also be used to pay and train testers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul launched a similar fair housing testing program this year operated through the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal. Hochul’s $2.2 million program funds six nonprofits to use undercover testers to act as homebuyers and renters.
The attorney general’s program will cost up to $3 million and be funded with new license fees collected from real estate agents under a state law amended in 2021. The change came after a 2019 Newsday investigation into housing bias on Long Island, which found widespread racial discrimination by real estate companies.
Under state law, surcharges are collected from real estate brokers and agents when issued or renewed a professional license. The surcharges then go into an anti-discrimination fund.
More than $22,000 in the fund also comes from penalties from agents who violated fair housing laws, according to Newsday. On Long Island, three real estate companies recently entered into settlements with Long Island Housing Services (LIHS) following investigations into housing discrimination based on source of income.
Despite the latest string of settlement cases reported by the LIHS, Long Island is of second-priority for the attorney general’s office. The top priority for grant funding is the northeastern part of New York and the Capital Region, which lack nonprofits and agencies that provide fair housing programs.
The grants awarded will be for two years with a potential third year offered.
Nonprofits or local agencies that join the attorney general’s program are expected to begin their investigations soon. Uncovered violations of the fair housing laws could result in civil action against the real estate companies and agents.