GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: Enough Excuses: It’s Time to Take Bold Action on Fair Housing

Richard Haggerty | December 2019

Wooden blocks with the word Fair and a wooden house. Fair value of real estate and housing. Property valuation. Home appraisal. Housing evaluator. Legal transparent deal. Apartment purchase / sale.

Last month in my article I mentioned a story about discriminatory practices relating to the real estate industry on Long Island. The story, which appeared in Newsday, was the product of three years of investigative reporting, which included extensive testing of real estate agents to determine whether the testers were receiving equal treatment based upon race. Much of the testing involved either video or audio recordings. The results were damning to say the least, and exposed alleged widespread instances of racial steering on the part of real estate agents.

Since then, I have re-read the article and have watched the videos again, and I have one word in response. Enough!

Enough platitudes about the importance of fair housing and cookie cutter statements about how organized real estate firmly believes in equal treatment for all. It’s not enough. It’s not working.

Enough comments about how it happened on Long Island and wouldn’t happen here (I’ve actually seen those posted on social media!). It has happened in the Lower Hudson Valley and it has happened in the greater New York City area. Enough complaints about how testing is unfair and constitutes entrapment. Testing has been upheld in multiple jurisdictions, including New York, as legal and enforceable, and quite frankly it is the most effective tool to expose steering and other forms of discriminatory activities.

Enough excuses that these stories are about a few rogue agents and are not representative of the industry as a whole. The Newsday story reflected a pattern of racial steering that was both extensive and pervasive, and I’m sorry to say it could happen anywhere.

HGAR needs to do more, and we will do more. HGAR President Ron Garafalo and President-elect Gail Fattizzi have appointed a special Task Force to jump start our efforts to promote and strengthen adherence to Fair Housing Laws. The Task Force will be co-chaired by HGAR Past Presidents Dorothy Botsoe and Leah Caro, and they have a clear mandate—don’t do more of the same. We need new directions and new ideas to bring home the vital importance of fair housing and the irrevocable damage that practices like steering cause in our communities.

HGAR has a strong track record on supporting Fair Housing initiatives. We were one of the leading forces for getting fair housing training included as a mandatory component for continuing education requirements. We supported the creation of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. We partnered with Westchester Residential Opportunities to create a fair housing hotline. All of these initiatives are worthy and laudable, but again, we need to do more.

For me one of the more distressing aspects of the Newsday story was a section that dealt with how real estate instructors were teaching fair housing in the classrooms, and whether they were meeting the core requirements mandated by the New York State Department of State. Some instructors clearly intimated, on video, that fair housing is a boring topic so they weave in other topics to enliven the classes. One word, enough! If any instructor believes that the topic they are entrusted to teach is boring or does not warrant the required three hours of instruction mandated by DOS, they have no business being in the classroom.

HGAR will be conducting a mandatory training session for our instructors in early January with representatives from WRO to make sure the training we provide at the HGAR School of Real Estate doesn’t just meet the required standards, but exceeds those standards. We will then thoroughly review the content of both our classroom and online classes to make them more relevant and compelling.

Fair housing training can’t just be about dates—it also needs to bring home the importance of adherence to the fair housing laws on a human and personal level. We know as an industry we have a problem. The Newsday story exposed that problem in very stark terms. Now we need to be a part of the solution. We need to say, enough, and get to work on new ideas and solutions to ensure fair and equal housing for all.

I know the resolve and the commitment to Fair Housing by our membership. Together, in the weeks and months ahead, I believe we can make great strides in helping all our clients achieve the American Dream.

In conclusion, from all of us at HGAR to all our members, affiliates and loyal readers of Real Estate In-Depth: Have a happy and healthy holiday season and New Year!

Richard Haggerty