Wednesday, September 23

Suffolk Legislature Task Force Discusses Ways to Fight Housing Discrimination

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A representative from Long Island’s building industry will be added to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Fair Housing Task Force as the group looks to develop ways to fight housing discrimination.

A representative of the Long Island Builders Institute will soon be added to the membership of the legislative task force, created to address reports that extensive racial steering is occurring throughout communities in Suffolk. The task force, which brings together experts, advocates and leaders in county and state government, has been charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the county’s existing human rights law and providing recommendations to improve and strengthen the law.

“As the chair of this task force, I am extremely dedicated to strengthening the existing County Human Rights Law in a manner that will prevent dishonest individuals from engaging in illegal housing discrimination in Suffolk County,” said Legislator Samuel Gonzalez.

The task force held its first meeting July 14 to discuss its mission, set goals and brainstorm ideas for deterring behavior that discriminates against individuals seeking to purchase a home in Suffolk County. Task force members expressed a willingness to examine the human rights law but also stressed the need for aggressive enforcement. Members emphasized the importance of public education on systemic racism and of diversifying Suffolk County’s housing stock. Other ideas included creating a “know your rights” public education campaign and a countywide fair housing complaint database. Task force members also discussed holding public hearings to solicit feedback and ideas from residents, experts and advocates.

“Racism is deeply embedded in the fibers of our society, permeating every aspect of our lives. Despite existing fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination based upon race, color, disability, national origin, etc., housing discrimination persists, in part, because of the systems intentionally constructed to promote acts of steering, blockbusting, and redlining,” said task force member Dawn Lott, executive director of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. “Until institutionalized racism is dismantled, the fight for justice, equality, and fairness must continue. The task force can be a vehicle for sustainable change in this regard. I hope that through education, outreach, and empowerment of those communities historically impacted, we can begin to reverse the segregated neighborhoods in Suffolk County and ensure that everyone enjoys fundamental human rights, including fair and equal housing.”

In addition to Legislator Gonzalez and Lott, the task force members are: Legislator Steven Flotteron; Lynda Perdomo-Ayala, chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission; Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, president of the Brookhaven Town NAACP; Liza Milgrim from the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association; Elaine Gross representing ERASE Racism; Bo Patten representing the Long Island Board of Realtors; Cicely Harris representing the New York State Division of Human Rights; and fair housing advocates Sharon Mullen from the Long Island Housing Partnership and Nancy Vargas-Johnson.

“We cannot stand by and let racism continue to pervade our housing system,” said Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco. “The members of this task force bring an array of backgrounds, experiences and knowledge to the table, all of which will be critical to developing new ways to combat housing discrimination. I look forward to supporting their efforts and seeing their ideas.”

The Fair Housing Task Force was established by a resolution unanimously approved by the legislature on Dec. 17, 2019 after evidence of steering housing consumers on the basis of race came to light in a Newsday investigative report. The resolution was sponsored by former presiding officer DuWayne Gregory and was co-sponsored by Presiding Officer Calarco and Legislator Gonzalez. The task force membership will soon be amended by replacing a representative of Latino Justice with a representative of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association and by adding a representative of the Long Island Builders Institute.

“The goals of the Fair Housing Task Force have been outlined in the resolution, to review existing laws and making such recommendations for improving and strengthening regulations,” added Grier-Key. “Additionally, it is the goal of the task force to reduce incidents of housing discrimination by scrutinizing practices and proposing direct sanctions for those who violate the law.”

By the end of this year, the task force will provide the legislature and the County Executive with a written report of its findings and determinations. The next task force meeting is scheduled for Aug. 12.


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