The Fight to Ensure Fair Housing Must Continue
John Jordan | July 2018
TARRYTOWN—Approximately 150 Realtors and affiliated real estate professionals gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel in Tarrytown on July 12 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and to hear housing advocates press the point that while significant progress has been made, much work needs to be done to ensure fair housing for all.
HGAR convened two panels of housing professionals and stakeholders that were moderated by Crystal Hawkins-Syska, chair of the HGAR Fair Housing & Diversity Committee. The first panel, which focused on fair housing law and discrimination in housing, featured: Jerrice Duckette Epps, Esq., acting executive director of the Westchester Human Rights Commission; Marlene Zarfes, deputy executive director of Westchester Residential Opportunities and Dorothy Botsoe, past president of the Women’s Council of Realtors Empire Local Westchester Chapter and Broker/Owner of Dorothy Jensen Realty of White Plains.
The second panel included: Raj Rajpal, vice chair of the International Committee of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA); Kellee Buhler, president of the New York Northeast Chapter of the International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI); Lisa Ortiz Rodriguez, president of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) and Joel Colman, president of the Westchester-Bronx Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals ( NAHREP). The real estate association executives detailed the missions of their respective organizations and the services they each provide.
A host of housing advocates stressed the importance of the passage of cooperative disclosure legislation that is now being reviewed by the Westchester County Board of Legislators. The pending legislation would require Co-Op Boards of Directors to disclose the reason behind a denial of an application by a prospective resident. Legislators are also discussing imposing a definitive timeframe co-op boards would have to disclose reasons for a denial.
Acting Westchester Human Rights Commissioner Duckette Epps and WROs Zarfes explained the roles the two organizations play in ensuring residents in Westchester (and in the case of WRO the lower Hudson Valley) have the right to fair housing.
Zarfes pulled no punches in respect to the proposed co-op disclosure law. She said the passage of the bill is a top priority for WRO. “We think it is absolutely critical that we have a co-op disclosure law (in Westchester County). Right now, it is basically legalized discrimination,” she charged.
The number one fair housing complaint WRO currently receives is disability discrimination. Included in that category is discrimination by property owners to renters who have service or emotionally supportive animals. She added that both service and emotionally supportive animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
Duckette Epps added that in her discussions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal housing agency is stepping up its investigation and enforcement of cases involving sexual harassment in housing.
Botsoe said that a key issue in today’s residential market has been the lack of available for-sale inventory, which has many turning to the rental market. She said that the availability in the rental market is also limited and most of the rentals on the market are overpriced.
A number of the housing advocacy representatives said that Realtors serve as their “boots on the ground” in the fight against housing discrimination.
NAHREP’s Colman and others agreed that education on the fair housing laws is critical in combating instances of discrimination. “I believe in education more than anything else. I think education is the key,” he said. “You educate the real estate professionals and you turn around and educate the community and together we overcome.”
Hawkins-Syska, chair of HGAR’s Fair Housing & Cultural Diversity Committee, agreed, saying that it is important that Realtors in their service to their clients “become educated about the (fair housing) laws in which we are supposed to uphold and the resources that are available to us in order to do our jobs right because basically everyone has a right to live where they want.”
HGAR President Barry Kramer read a resolution that will go before the HGAR Board of Directors at its next meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and expressing the association’s support of the principles of the landmark legislation.
He also implored Realtors to advocate for the cooperative disclosure law in Westchester County and to notify HGAR about any instances they have encountered where prospective co-op buyers were victims of discrimination.
In closing he also noted that 2018 also marks the 50th anniversary of the classic PBS children’s television program “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” that asked “Won’t you be my neighbor.”
Kramer said, “We began the road to Fred Roger’s neighborhood 50 years ago and have been building that road ever since. As Realtors we must engage, educate and enforce Fair Housing laws. Our priority is to expand protections and to continue building a road to Fred’s neighborhood for future generations.”
Sponsors of the “50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act” event were: Lighthouse Environmental Consultants, Emigrant Mortgage Company, C2G Environmental Consultants, National Tenant Network, Citibank and Dolgetta Law, PLLC.