Newspaper goes undercover to show realtors’ discrimination against Black homebuyers

A three-year undercover investigation by Newsday revealed evidence of widespread hidden discrimination by real estate agents brokering home sales across Long Island.

For Hispanic home seekers, evidence of unfair treatment emerged 39% of the time. For Asians, the rate was 19%. Black home seekers involved in the investigation received unequal, lesser access to homes and communities just about half of the time (49%) when compared to white buyers.

One Long Island real estate agent told a black man that houses in a predominantly white neighborhood were too expensive for his budget. But the same agent showed houses in the same neighborhood to a white man with the same amount of money to spend.

Another agent told a black woman she wouldn’t even take her to look at any houses unless she was prequalified for a mortgage. The agent said she didn’t “have the time” and suggested maybe she could find another agent that would take her to look at homes. When a white tester who had the same finances and budget as the black tester met with the same real estate agent, she was taken to see 2 homes and given a list of 79 homes to look at.

The investigation showed that real estate agents in the Long Island area treated people of color unequally 40% of the time compared to white people.

Real estate agents are barred from talking to clients about the backgrounds of people who live in neighborhoods and they are required to provide equal guidance about areas in which they may want to live.

Newsday found that agents ignored those rules repeatedly.

White customers were often given more listings than minority testers, Newsday found. And in a quarter of the cases, agents appeared to unlawfully steer buyers to different communities based on their race or ethnicity.

During the tests, which were conducted over a 16 month period, the newspaper contacted 93 real estate agents at some of the area’s biggest firms. Two testers — of different races, but of the same gender and about the same age, with similar income and housing preferences — would independently approach the same agent to test whether they were treated differently based on their race.

The results were startling, with the highest average of discrimination (49%) being shown towards black homeowners.

The federal fair-housing law, passed in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, religion and other factors.

Government officials said they were examining what Newsday had uncovered.

“We are reviewing this report, but make no mistake: Every complaint received is thoroughly investigated and we urge any New Yorker who believes they have been the victim of housing discrimination to contact us immediately,” Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement.

Olga Alvarez, a spokeswoman for the federal housing department, said that the agency was examining Newsday’s findings.

“Combating housing discrimination is at the forefront of our department’s enforcement priorities,” she said.

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