New York media outlet Newsday spent 3 years investigating how unequal treatment by real estate agents contributes to continued segregation in Long Island. The investigation indicates that purchasing a home in the largely segregated suburb comes with substantial risk of discrimination and this is true of many other neighborhoods across the country. To view the investigation documentary, “Testing the Divide,” click here.
The investigation used 25 trained testers who spent 240 hours recording interactions with 93 real estate agents. Testers were of different races and ethnicities, and had similar qualifications and search parameters. Testers tended to receive different listings based on race and ethnicity. Discrimination was found 19% of the time against Asian testers, 39% of the time against Latinx testers, and 49% of the time against Black testers.
According to the findings, here are 5 things to pay attention to when you’re buying a home to identify potential housing discrimination:
1. Notice if you are told you can’t see home without mortgage preapproval. The investigation found agents weren’t willing to show properties to a Black buyer without mortgage preapproval, but were willing to send 79 listings to a white buyer without preapproval. The same issue came up about presenting identification in order to view properties. This is a denial of equal service.
2. Recognize steering. Steering refers to the practice of agents discouraging or encouraging someone to purchase or rent a home in a specific neighborhood, often based on the race of the people who live there or the race or ethnicity of the prospective tenant/buyer. The investigation found that a Black tester was encouraged to move into one neighborhood while a white tester was deterred, with the agent saying there was too much gang activity in the area. Listings sent to the Black tester tended to be in Brentwood, a neighborhood primarily made up of people of color. None of the listings sent to the white tester were in Brentwood – they were all in primarily white neighborhoods. Steering is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. It can be done through actions or words and limits housing choice, perpetuates segregation, and locks people out of communities.
3. Listen for coded language. Some real estate agents talk about things like “crime,” “safety,” or “bad schools” to steer people towards or away from different neighborhoods. Remember that crime happens everywhere, but generally it’s neighborhoods of color that are stereotyped as high-crime areas. Make sure you do your own research and are choosing neighborhoods based on facts, not bias. The investigation also found that agents often used the idea of “good schools” to point white testers to certain neighborhoods. When it comes to schools, keep in mind that quality is very subjective and every family has their own criteria. If the agent seems to be using crime or school quality as code words to hint at the race of residents in a neighborhood, they may be breaking the law.
4. Watch for bad customer service. It is very commonplace in real estate for agents to discriminate by simply not providing adequate service. A real estate agent’s job is to help you find a home, so be aware if your agent doesn’t send listings, return your calls, or often finds reasons to not show you a property. One agent interviewed for this investigation actually admitted that he was asked to participate in steering daily in his job. It is easy to keep people out of communities by simply refusing to interact or provide them services.
5. Enforcement is often limited and relies on victims of discrimination, who may not know they are victims. If you notice something that seems off, contact a fair housing advocacy organization, such as LaFHAC ((504) 596-2100). You can also help identify discrimination by becoming a tester: https://lafairhousing.org/become-a-tester.