Concerns over the availability of affordable housing have been a major issue since the financial crisis, and according to National Mortgage News, the problem might be particularly troubling for minorities.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently launched a new program called the Fair Housing Enforcement Program, which is meant to target discrimination in both rental and home sale transactions.
The initiative will involve undercover fair housing “testers” posing as potential renters or home buyers.
These testers will check for any signs of discrimination among sellers, landlords, and real estate agents.
The program will encompass officials across New York from the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, three fair-housing agencies from the State, Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Buffalo, CNY Fair Housing in Syracuse, and Westchester Residential Opportunities in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties.
Testers will present the individuals in question with similar incomes and career profiles, and their treatment of potential renters and buyers will be recorded.
If any are suspected of discriminatory bias, the state will further investigate and potentially prosecute according to the guidelines of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York’s Human Rights Law.
“Denying access to housing, whether it is through discrimination or harassment driven by greed, is unconscionable and illegal,” said HCR Commissioner James Rubin.
“To make it crystal clear: discriminatory practices are always abhorrent and will be investigated and prosecuted,” he continued.
Cuomo also asked the Division of Human Rights and the Department of State to propose regulations to clarify that discrimination against an individual based on their relationship or association with someone from a protected class will also lead to prosecution.
Besides discrimination offering housing to minorities, the Human Rights Law also prevents landlords from evicting tenants due to the race, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation of visitors.
Any real estate broker or salesperson deemed to have engaged in discriminatory conduct could even have their licenses revoked.
Just in 2015, there were 123 cases filed with New York State over housing discrimination, 41 of which involved complaints over racism or national origin, 91 from individuals with disabilities, and 26 against families with children and pregnant women.
Discrimination against families knows no economic class; for instance, parents with assets in the six- or seven-figure range — so long as they are under $10.86 million, or $5.43 million if single — can leave their kids with an estate tax-free inheritance. Yet despite having the money for a new home or apartment, these families may still face obstacles when it comes to finding housing if they are not taken seriously by real estate agents or landlords. And as a family’s income decreases, so, too, can the availability of affordable and safe housing.
The potential positive effects of programs such as this may be evident in the number of homeless people dropping in some areas of New York State.
As Syracuse.com reports, the number of homeless individuals in emergency shelters in Onondaga County of Syracuse dropped this winter from 539 in 2015, to 453 in 2016.
“What we’re seeing is a decrease across the board. A decrease in (homeless) families, in individuals, in chronically homeless, a decrease in youths,” said Melissa Marrone, the coordinator of the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
Marrone believes this decline is the result of increased coordination directed at finding temporary housing for the homeless quickly, with the help of funding from the Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Governor Cuomo again took matters into his own hands by asking New York State Police and all municipalities to force homeless indoors during periods of dangerous weather, and even to arrest homeless people for a psychiatric evaluation if necessary.
While Marrone says that Syracuse police have not aided in this initiative, increased communication and coordination between the county Department of Social Services and other supporters have been pivotal in decreasing these numbers.