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Not All Racial Discrimination In Housing Is In The Old Confederacy-- Take Long Island

I was born in Brooklyn and went to the equivalent of junior high school there. But in between-- in in college-- I lived on Long Island. my parts moved to a working class near-in suburb, Valley Stream, when I was still a toddler. Looking for a nicer life for our expanding family, they bought a larger home further east in Roosevelt, a few years later. Roosevelt was one of the first integrated suburbs in America. Sounds peachy, right? It was traumatic-- a result of late 1950s "blockbusting," by which real estate speculators bought houses for low prices "from terrified whites," wrote Andrew O'Hehir for Salon in 2000, "and resold them at a premium to blacks who were not welcome in most suburbs. Ironically, the result of this fear mongering and profiteering was a stable community, one of the first middle class black enclaves in suburban America.

History Professor Marquita James, in her paper, "Blacks in Roosevelt, Long Island," analyzed what happened there as "a classic example of a community in a 'color class conflict,' brought on by the American racist society in which all minorities of color live. The Blacks in Roosevelt reflect the aspirations and frustrations of all Afro Americans. Color, not class, was the primary factor of opposition in the color transformation of the Roosevelt community. Whites rejected not only the severely poverty stricken Blacks, but Blacks of middle and upper income status as well. All were treated as 'racial castes' segregated to themselves, housing districts away from the white residents of the community. The situation became intensified when welfare recipients began entering the community. This drastic shift in the economic status of the community created a massive exodus of 'frantic white flight,' spurned on by the alarmist tactics of greedy Real Estate Brokers who exploited the racist fears of the white residents for their own financial gain."

Long time ago, right? Well... yes and no. My old college friend from Stony Brook, Mitchell Cohen, reminded me this morning that "in February of 1969, SUNY Stony Brook students from the Organization for Progressive Thought and Students for a Democratic Society marched in Port Jefferson on the mayor's home to protest the refusal of many White property owners in Brookhaven township to rent or sell to Black people, along with the failure of government to enforce equality under the law." Mitchell was arrested there for being the 16th person in a circular picket line that the police had limited arbitrarily to 15 people. "Those actions against Jim Crow on Long Island," he wrote today, "continued for a number of years. Looks as though they're needed again today." He sent me this Newsday piece by Maura McDermott that was published yesterday-- LI real estate agents face discipline since landmark Newsday series. New York is disciplining real estate agents-- revoking one license, refusing to renew 3 others and 18 others who the state is trying to suspend "in the state’s toughest enforcement of fair housing laws in decades... The state has opened 52 additional investigations into potential misconduct by real estate professionals... The agents who have been disciplined or are under investigation were videorecorded by Newsday as they met with pairs of undercover testers ­one white and one either Black, Hispanic or Asian ­who had similar financial profiles.

  • One agent told a white homebuyer to "look into recent gang killings" in the Brentwood area but told a Black homebuyer that "the nicest people" live in the community.

  • Multiple agents made "offensive" and "disparaging" comments about largely minority communities to white clients, such as "I'm not going to send you anything in Wyandanch unless you don't want to start your car to buy your crack …"

  • Another told a white customer that Hispanics "took over" the East Hampton school district.

  • One told a Hispanic prospective buyer that a certain North Shore listing "might be a bit pricey for you" without first asking about his budget but told a colleague to give a white buyer "whatever information he's looking for because he's a stand-up guy" and told the white man he would be "more comfortable in a certain demographic area."

  • Several refused to show homes to minority buyers without proof of mortgage prequalification or a signed buyer's agent contract but did not impose the same requirements on white customers.

  • Three instructors provided state-mandated lessons in fair housing for agents that fell far short of the required three hours and included "inappropriate and/or offensive statements," such as one instructor using the phrase "Jewish lightning," a reference to arson.

McDermott noted that "the Division of Human Rights has a new leader, interim commissioner Johnathan Smith, a longtime civil rights attorney who took over in May. He said the agency is reviewing the outcomes of cases and how long they take to get resolved to see where improvements can be made, and it has launched a public education campaign focused on housing bias. Last year, the agency announced it had secured more than $600,000 in settlements for victims of all types of housing bias over a period of several months... 'Combating housing discrimination is an incredibly important priority for the agency,' said Smith, who previously worked as a senior counsel for civil rights in the federal Department of Justice. 'We can and we should evaluate what's happening in those cases [to see] if there are changes or efficiencies or other tweaks we can make to our process to get to a more just outcome.' Smith, who grew up in West Hempstead, said when he read about allegations of racial discrimination by real estate agents in Newsday’s Long Island Divided investigation, he thought of family members and friends who had 'recounted very similar experiences' when he lived on Long Island."

Smith told her that to him "the most important fact about it was that, you know, none of those findings are new. These are challenges that, in the case of Long Island, the area has been dealing with for decades. And it's not just limited to Long Island; these are problems that many, many people are facing across New York State."

State Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) said he expects the Assembly to pass the fair-housing measures approved by the Senate, which also include bills that would:

  • Remove the current $10,000 limit on punitive damages imposed by the state Division of Human Rights in housing bias cases, and allow the division to impose additional penalties up to $75,000 for multiple offenses;

  • Double the Department of State's maximum fine for housing bias, untrustworthiness or incompetency by real estate agents and brokers, to $2,000;

  • Make it easier to hold top brokers accountable for fair-housing violations by their agents;

  • Double the amount of fair-housing training that agents must undergo to renew their licenses, to six hours every two years.

Something that didn't exist when I was living on Long Island, "the legislature passed a law last year giving the state the explicit power to revoke real estate agents' licenses for housing bias. The state also imposed a new requirement that agents inform customers in writing of their fair-housing rights and opened a hotline for reporting allegations."

And by the way, Trump, who made the papers for the very first time in his life in a racist discrimination suited involved with refusing the rent apartments to Blacks and Puerto Ricans in Brooklyn, did well on Long Island. There are 4 congressional districts that are overwhelmingly in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

  • NY-01 (Lee Zeldin)-- Trump took 54.5% against Hillary and 51.5% against Biden

  • NY-02 (Peter King/Andrew Garbarino)-- Trump took 53.0% against Hillary and 51.4% against Biden

  • NY-03 (Tom Suozzi)-- Trump lost in 2016 with 45.5% and lost last year with 44.3%

  • NY-04 (Kathleen Rice)-- Trump lost in 2016 43.8% and lost last year with 43.4%

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