FAIR HOUSING FIGHT

After Newsday’s revealing investigation into housing discrimination on Long Island, one of the region’s leading civil rights advocates, Elaine Gross, founder and president of Erase Racism, has accused the federal government of gutting necessary protections for fair housing. We’ll have the details.

Aired on December 13, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

STATE LAWMAKERS ARE TAKING A HARD LOOK AT HOUSING DISCRIMINATION ON LONG ISLAND.

THE SCRUTINY COMES AFTER A NEWS DAY SPECIAL INVESTIGATION THAT FOUND EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD UNEQUAL TREATMENT OF POTENTIAL HOME BUYERS ON THE PART OF REAL ESTATE AGENTS.

AN INVESTIGATION WE FEATURED HERE YESTERDAY.

THE THREE YEAR EXPOSE USED UNDERCOVER TESTERS TO RECORD INTERACTIONS BETWEEN HOME BUYERS AND AGENTS FOUND AGENTS STEERED MINORITY HOME BUYERS TOWARDS INTEGRATED NEIGHBORHOODS WHILE STEERING WHITE HOME BUYERS TOWARDS WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS.

AS A RESULT OF THE EXPOSE, THE STATE SENATE, THE STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE GOVERNOR HAVE ORDERED PROBES INTO REPORTS OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION.

THE EXECUTIVES HAVE ANNOUNCED THEIR PLANS TO COMBAT THE PROBLEM.

JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THE FINDINGS OF THE INVESTIGATION AND WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN NEXT IS ELAINE GROSS.

SHE'S THE FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF A ERASE RACISM, A CIVIL RIGHTSADVOCACY GROUP.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

FIRST OF ALL, WAS THERE ANYTHING IN THE INVESTIGATION THAT SURPRISED YOU?

NO, THERE WASN'T.

IN PART BECAUSE WE HAVE DONE INVESTIGATIONS LIKE THAT WITH TESTING.

IN OUR CASE, IT WAS RENTAL.

BUT WE HAD SIMILAR RESPONSES WHERE THE REAL ESTATE AGENTS WOULD TREAT THE -- IN OUR CASE AFRICAN-AMERICAN TESTERS DIFFERENTLY FROM THE WHITE TESTERS.

TELL THE AFRICAN-AMERICANS THAT THERE WAS NO AVAILABILITY FOR RENTALS AND THEN THE WHITE TESTERS, THEY WOULD GLADLY SHOW THEM THE VACANCIES.

THAT'S WHAT YOU FOUND ALSO.

AN INVESTIGATION YOU CONDUCTED IN 2012, WHICH LED TO --

TO TWO SUCCESSFUL LAWSUITS.

ONE WAS IN NASSAU COUNTY.

THAT WAS 2014.

THE OTHER WAS COMACK, THAT WAS 2016.

YOU RECENTLY TESTIFIED BEFORE A SENATE HEARING.

IT WAS CONVENED AFTER THE INVESTIGATION TO DEAL WITH THIS ISSUE.

THERE'S A MOMENT IN YOUR TESTIMONY WHERE YOU MADE IT CLEAR THAT THIS IS VERY PERSONAL.

HOW IS IT PERSONAL FOR YOU?

WELL, IT'S PERSONAL BECAUSE I WASN'T LIVING IN NEW YORK AT THE TIME.

I WAS IN MASSACHUSETTS.

BUT I WAS DISCRIMINATED.

I WAS AT THAT TIME LOOKING FOR AN APARTMENT.

THE AGENT WAS VERY NICE TO ME AND TOLD ME, THE APARTMENT THAT I WAS INTERESTED IN HAD BEEN TAKEN.

HE OFFERED TO MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR ME TO SEE ANOTHER APARTMENT.

WHEN I WENT THE NEXT DAY TO SEE THE OTHER APARTMENT, IT WAS MORE EXPENSIVE AND I SAW THAT IT HAD VERMIN.

I FOUND OUT BECAUSE A WHITE PERSON INQUIRED AFTERWARDS AND WAS TOLD THAT IT WAS AVAILABLE.

HE THEN GAVE ME -- I CHALLENGED HIM.

HE GAVE ME SOME COCK AND BULL STORY.

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST SINISTER ASPECTS OF THIS IS THAT THE VICTIM SELDOM REALIZES HE OR SHE IS BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.

THAT'S RIGHT.

MOST PEOPLE WOULD NEVER KNOW.

YOU TAKE THE WORD OF THE AGENT.

THE AGENT SAYS THAT I DON'T HAVE THAT, BUT I HAVE THIS, YOU THINK, OKAY, THEY ARE TRYING TO ACCOMMODATE ME.

BUT IT'S DEVASTATING.

AND IT WAS NOT ONLY PERSONALLY DEVASTATING BUT THE FACT THAT THEY WERE GOING TO CHARGE ME MORE IN ANOTHER BUILDING AND I SAW THE LITTLE CREATURES RUNNING AROUND --

YOUR ORGANIZATION, ERASE RACISM, AND THE FAIR HOUSING JUSTICE CENTER ISSUED A FIVE POINT PLAN TO ADDRESS HOUSING DISCRIMINATION ON LONG ISLAND IN CONJUNCTION WITH THIS EXPOSE.

FOR THE SAKE OF TIME, CAN YOU BRIEFLY SUMMARIZE THE FIVE POINTS OR GIVE US THE KEY POINTS THAT YOU ARE PROPOSING?

CERTAINLY, WE TALKED ABOUT THE LICENSING PROCESS FOR AGENTS.

AND THESE ARE THE GATEKEEPERS TO THE COMMUNITIES.

AND RIGHT NOW, OUR SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

IF YOU TRY TO FIND AN AGENT WHO HAS LOST THEIR LICENSE, YOU KNOW, YOU WON'T FIND MUCH BECAUSE THE DEPARTMENT OF LICENSING SERVICES REALLY HASN'T BEEN DOING ANYTHING.

AND THERE'S NO EXPLANATION FOR THIS.

SO THAT SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE FIXED.

ALSO, THERE IS THE SYSTEM OF FAIR HOUSING ENFORCEMENT, WHICH IS A DIFFERENT AGENCY.

THAT'S A DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS.

AND THEY DO NOT HAVE A ROBUST SYSTEM OF ENFORCEMENT.

A LOT OF CASES ARE DISMISSED, NO PROBABLE CAUSE.

FOR THE SAKE OF TIME, LET ME INTERRUPT AND ADDRESS THAT.

BECAUSE CLEARLY THE INVESTIGATION -- I HAD A DISCUSSION WITH AN INDIVIDUAL WHO DIRECTED IT.

IT WAS CLEARLY VERY, VERY EXPENSIVE TO CONDUCT FOR A NEWSPAPER TO DO IT.

BUT IF LAW ENFORCEMENT HAD THE CAPACITY, HAD THE RESOURCES TO CONDUCT CONSISTENT AND SYSTEMATIC PAIRING, TESTING ALL THE TIME AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS KNEW IT WAS COMING, WOULDN'T THAT GO A LONG WAY IN SOLVING THE PROBLEM?

ABSOLUTELY.

RIGHT NOW, IF YOU ARE A REAL ESTATE AGENTS, YOU KNOW THAT YOU WON'T -- VERY LIKELY, YOU WON'T GET CAUGHT.

EVEN IF YOU DO, I BELIEVE THE HIGHEST FINE IS LIKE $1,000.

WHICH IS NOT MUCH MORE THAN A SLAP ON THE WRIST.

SO IT DOES MATTER THAT WE DON'T HAVE THE ROBUST EITHER ENFORCEMENT AROUND REALTORS AND THEIR BEHAVIOR OR THE FAIR HOUSING ENFORCEMENT WHICH WOULD HELP INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE BEEN DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.

AT THE ROOT OF ALL OF THIS IS THE NEED FOR SYSTEMATIC PAIR TESTING.

BECAUSE THAT'S THE WAY TO REALLY ROOT OUT WHO IS DOING THE DISCRIMINAING BECAUSE ALL OF THE VICTIMS DON'T KNOW.

YOU HAVE BEEN CRITICAL OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ABOUT WHAT THEY HAVE DONE OR WHAT THEY HAVEN'T DONE.

CAN YOU TELL US WHAT IT IS THAT YOU ARE -- WHAT'S THE GRIEVANCES?

HUD IS MANDATED BY CONGRESS TO ACTUALLY ENFORCE THE FAIR HOUSING STATUTE.

WHEN THE FAIR HOUSING LAW TOOK PLACE IN 1968, THEY NOT ONLY TOLD HUD TO DEAL WITH HELPING PEOPLE GET REDRESS WHEN THEY HAVE BEEN DISCRIMINATED AGAINST, BUT THEY SAID, YOU NEED TO FIND WAYS TO AFFIRMATIVELY FURTHER FAIR HOUSING, TO IDENTIFY THE IMPEDIMENTS TO HOUSING INTEGRATION AND TO ADDRESS THOSE ISSUES.

THEY'RE NOT DOING THAT?

THEY'RE NOT DOING THAT.

THE HOOK WAS THAT MUNICIPALITIES WOULD NOT GET FUNDING, WHICH THEY ALL WANT, WHICH THEY ALL GET.

THEY WOULD NOT GET THAT FUNDING UNLESS THEY HAD EVIDENCE THAT THEY WERE AFFIRMATIVELY FURTHERING FAIR HOUSING.

AND SO THE COMBINATION OF THE MUNICIPALITIES NOT DOING WHAT THEY ARE DOING, THE STATE GOVERNMENT ENFORCEMENT OF FAIR HOUSING AND THE STATE GOVERNMENT LICENSING NOT WORKING WELL, WE HAVE A SITUATION WHERE THERE IS NO JUSTICE.

AT THIS VERY MOMENT, BECAUSE OF THE EXPOSE LARGELY, THERE'S A FOCUS ON THIS ISSUE.

WHAT'S YOUR GUT FEELING?

IS THIS A TIPPING POINT?

IS THIS ISSUE GOING TO BE SERIOUSLY ADDRESSED, AT LEAST IN LONG ISLAND?

I DO FEEL THAT SOMETHING IS HAPPENING.

WHEN YOU HAVE SO MUCH ATTENTION AND PEOPLE TRYING -- TRYING TO COME UP WITH STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH THEIR END OF THINGS, I FEEL OPTIMISTIC THAT WE MIGHT BE AT A POINT WHERE THINGS WILL REALLY TAKE A TURN FOR THE BEST.

ALL RIGHT.

ELAINE, WE ARE COUNTING ON YOU TO LET US KNOW IF THAT IS HAPPENING.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019