Root out unfair housing issues
by: Editorial Board
Sometimes to uncover a case of housing discrimination, it takes a super sleuth. Or, in New York, it takes a “tester.”
This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Fair Housing Program, and its goal is to uncover discrimination in rental and home sale transactions. As part of the program, the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal will use trained fair housing “testers” — people who represent different racial, gender, and economic backgrounds, parents and people with disabilities. Acting as potential renters or home seekers, the testers will check for discriminatory bias among sellers and landlords.
Forty-eight years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it unlawful to discriminate in the rental, sale and financing of homes, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability, housing discrimination continues to quietly plague our community. Those who deny access must be rooted out and this program is a good tool in fighting a morally repugnant problem that is more subtle than it was 50 years ago.
The New York state Division of Human Rights recently reached settlements on 123 cases filed with the state alleging housing discrimination in 2015. In one of those cases, a potential tenant in Rochester filed a complaint that alleged a broker at a real estate firm denied her the opportunity to view and apply for an apartment because of her race, and made false assertions of unavailability to dissuade her from pursuing the unit. The broker was required to pay damages.
Sadly, news of housing discrimination cases statewide and locally comes as no surprise to us. Unite Rochester began reporting on the racial disparities in housing in our community in 2013, and there have been ongoing examples locally.
Last summer, for example, Empire Justice Center, a statewide public interest law firm, released a report that said African-Americans in Rochester are being disproportionately shut out of the local housing market. Black people are twice as likely — or even more, depending on their income bracket — to be denied mortgages when compared to white people who earn equal pay. Also last year, Five Star Bank settled claims that it had refused to give loans to people living in Rochester or predominantly minority suburban neighborhoods.
The benefits of the Fair Housing Program include more than potentially catching and punishing scofflaws. The information collected by testers could help raise awareness about the subtle but still damaging discriminatory acts that continue to exist in our community.
If the Fair Housing Program can raise awareness while helping to eradicate housing discrimination, it will contribute to making New York state a fairer, more welcoming state for all.