Long Island Divided
November 18, 2019 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Long Island DividedIn one of the most concentrated investigations of discrimination by real estate agents in the half century since enactment of America’s landmark fair housing law, Newsday found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island.
In fully 40 percent of the tests, evidence suggested that brokers subjected minority testers to disparate treatment when compared with white testers with inequalities rising to almost half the time for black potential buyers.

Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49 percent of the time – compared with 39 percent for Hispanic and 19 percent for Asian testers.

In seven of Newsday’s tests – 8 percent of the total – agents accommodated white testers while imposing more stringent conditions on minorities that amounted to the denial of equal service between testers.

“This is something that didn’t happen in the deep South,” said Greg Squires, professor of public policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who offered advice about structuring the testing program.

“It happened in one of the most educated, most liberal regions of the country. These are significant numbers.”

Most commonly in the seven cases, agents refused to provide house listings or home tours to minority testers unless they met financial qualifications that weren’t imposed on white counterparts.

“I won’t do it,” Signature Premier Properties agent Anne Marie Queally Bechand said in refusing to take a black customer to tour houses unless the customer produced evidence that a lender had preapproved a mortgage loan.

One month earlier, Queally Bechand had asked a white customer who had yet to secure mortgage preapproval, “When can you start looking at houses?”

In nearly a quarter of the tests – 24 percent – agents directed whites and minorities into differing communities through house listings that had the earmarks of “steering” – the unlawful sorting of home buyers based on race or ethnicity.

One example: Amid MS-13 gang murders in Brentwood, a 79 percent Hispanic and black community, Le-Ann Vicquery, at the time a Keller Williams Realty agent, told a black customer:

“Every time I get a new listing in Brentwood, or a new client, I get so excited because they’re the nicest people.” She emailed the paired white customer: “please kindly do some research on the gang related events in that area for safety.”

Vicquery declined to comment. Queally Bechand did not respond to requests for comment.
posted by tonycpsu (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It happened in one of the most educated, most liberal regions of the country. "

Yeah, no. The person who said this is not at all familiar with Long Island.

This is appalling, but if you're from New York, it's not even a little bit surprising.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:23 AM on November 18, 2019 [62 favorites]


As a white male, I had a Long Island realtor refuse to show me certain listings because of the neighborhood racial makeup. I fired that realtor on the spot, but got the impression I was an outlier.
posted by postel's law at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Grew up on LI, it is racist AF. Armchair white liberals (and plenty of Trump supporters!) who are really, really afraid of Black people.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:52 AM on November 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


LI is full of people who will use the names in this article as a resource list.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:55 AM on November 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


Like, plenty of music teachers who fashioned themselves open-minded, wildly liberal people who, when asked what kind of music they liked, would say "I like all kinds of music. Except rap music." usually followed with some sort of half-assed explanation as to why rap wasn't actually music at all.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:08 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Only place I've seen where for sale signs have the word "exclusive" on them. Take what you will from that.
posted by ocschwar at 10:11 AM on November 18, 2019


Realtors are (generally, in the USA) paid on a commission for buying/selling the property, regardless of the effort they put into the sale. This leads them to all sorts of perverse incentives, most of which are outside the scope of this discussion. One of them is that when a realtor that believe their effort for a client will not likely pay off for the realtor, they are incentivized not to bother with the client at all. If the realtor believes that their client can't pay for a house or won't be interested in an area (whether or not the client actually can pay for the house or is interested in the area), the realtor will not even bother starting the discussion - it's a waste of money for them.

There are a lot of reasons realtors should be paid by the hour and not by commission. This post is one of those reasons.
posted by saeculorum at 10:23 AM on November 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


One of the things that deeply frustrates me about these stories is that they are framed as "Wow, these specific agents are racist, and really need to stop being racist or get out of the business", rather than "Wow, the systematic problems and lack of enforcement around banks, banking, real estate sales and the real estate companies that hire real estate agents really create conditions that tend to cause racial discrimination and should be held liable and change their conditions." This story focuses on a segregated Long Island suburb - and having lived in New York, yeah, I bet it IS worse in Long Island and they clearly get very dramatic results, but this kind of thing is actually astonishingly common pretty much everywhere and it's a function of how the system works rather than the actions of individuals.

As saeculorum notes, most real estate agents do not receive even minimum wage, though there are exceptions. The only time that they are paid is when they sell a house, and what they are paid is a percentage of the home value. If the person does not buy a house - even if it's because a bank denies them credit- the real estate agents have essentially worked for free for that entire time. And it can be a significant amount of time - full work-weeks of time, some of it to people like me who aren't always even in a position to buy the house at the time but may not even know it. I remember trying to buy a house once, when my income was fine but I didn't realize my credit would be such a barrier.

So essentially, the working conditions of real estate agents mean that they are strongly incentivized - as in, their families may not eat or they may not be able to pay their own rent if they don't - to try to show homes to individuals that they think will be able and likely to purchase them quickly, with few complications.

And we live in a society that suffers the impacts of generational discrimination. We know that wealth and income are different. We know there is a racial wealth gap. And we know that a large part of it is because of the racial credit gap, and that as a consequence of that, black homebuyers are being denied mortgages at higher rates than white homebuyers.
This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting...

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust. It is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.
Credit is one of the largest things that is contributing to this. And credit is absolutely racialized in how it operates. Companies send debts to collections much more frequently for people who live in historically poor neighborhoods or who already have bad credit - thus compounding the problems. And it's really interesting which debts tend to be sent quickly to collections and which don't, and it has nothing to do with the size of the debt. For example: large medical debts, lawyer bills, etc, frequently take a while before they go to collections. Unpaid cellphone bills however frequently go there after only 60 days or less.

So real estate agents are frequently aware of the rates at which approvals happen. They know that discriminatory practices mean that the minority would-be homebuyers are much more likely to struggle for years before they can even think about purchasing a house, and that often even when they're ready, they'll be denied by the banks. They know that white would-be homebuyers suffer much less institutional discrimination, and will be more likely to buy and thus more likely to be able to pay them. So they make choices about their time and effort that exist in a discriminatory system and thus reinforce that system. Should they do it? No, absolutely not. But we shouldn't be fining the agents for having opinions about the likelihood of banks to grant mortgages - we should be destroying the credit system and fining the banks.
posted by corb at 10:30 AM on November 18, 2019 [27 favorites]


It's true that there's a lot going on, and that it's more complicated than just racist real estate agents. But the experiment also accounted for most of that.

Are black people more likely to have bad credit or be declined for mortgages? Sure. But they were paired with white testers who had the same credit scores and mortgage approval status!

And it absolutely does not excuse any of the "you don't want to be in that (integrated) neighborhood" comments, or the jokes about crack in the minority neighborhood. That kind of shit is well beyond market incentives and straight into individual racism.
posted by explosion at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


I remember trying to buy a house once, when my income was fine but I didn't realize my credit would be such a barrier.

Yes, currently about 70% of homes are purchased with a credit rating above 720 (rated excellent), so if your credit rating is below that, you are in for some really tough competition. The bad news is that about 60% of homes are purchased by people whose credit rating is above 760 (rated even more excellent), so the 720 score people will be joining the 'lousy credit club' group in competition for 30% of the houses. This means if you don't have super excellent credit, you cannot purchase real estate.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:24 AM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Realtors are (generally, in the USA) paid on a commission for buying/selling the property, regardless of the effort they put into the sale. This leads them to all sorts of perverse incentives, most of which are outside the scope of this discussion. One of them is that when a realtor that believe their effort for a client will not likely pay off for the realtor, they are incentivized not to bother with the client at all. If the realtor believes that their client can't pay for a house or won't be interested in an area (whether or not the client actually can pay for the house or is interested in the area), the realtor will not even bother starting the discussion - it's a waste of money for them.

There are a lot of reasons realtors should be paid by the hour and not by commission. This post is one of those reasons.


Okay but if realtors believe that their effort for a client won't pay off because that client is Black I don't give a fuck about their perverse incentives, they're being racist.
posted by an octopus IRL at 11:33 AM on November 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


Yes the perverse incentives exist everywhere, but that doesn't explain this: "This is something that didn’t happen in the deep South,” said Greg Squires, professor of public policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who offered advice about structuring the testing program.

I'm a white person from a liberal area of North Carolina, and when I first moved up here to NYC I was very surprised to meet a greater number of racist (yet nominally liberal) white people than I'd known back home. Where I grew up there was plenty of neighborhood-level segregation, but my high school was still around 40% black students, which definitely was not the case for any of my white Long Island-raised friends. Sadly, this still seems to be true:

“Personally, I’ve never seen much difference between the South and the North,” comedian Dick Gregory wrote in a 1971 issue of Ebony. “Down South white folks don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big. Up North white folks don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close.”

That’s the famous part of the quote. Gregory goes on to say, “In the South, black folks have been abused by the white man physically. In the North, black folks have been abused by the white power structure mentally. The difference is that in the North the white system is more clever with its abuse.”

posted by showbiz_liz at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


I'm always happy to throw a little shade on Suffolk County, but I really really expect this is not a Nassau-Suffolk problem. I expect you'd see similar results in, at minimum, other broadly rust-belt areas.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:52 AM on November 18, 2019


I'm always happy to throw a little shade on Suffolk County

GIVE US BACK OUR AREA CODE YOU THIEVES
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm white and I grew up in one of the towns they mention white people get steered away from. Count me another as disappointed - as in none of this is right or ok or good for anyone involved - but not surprised. It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy - I bet there are people who think "Oh I'm open minded, I want to vote for Obama a third time, I'll go live in CI and show them all how it's done" and then they get out there and get creeped out at 7-11 and then back out of their contract. Not that there actually is anything for them to fear but that's just how people are. Then the next time the real estate agent says to the next white person, oh you don't want to live there. On the other hand, Long Island is suffering from the same unaffordability of housing as everywhere else, so is turning away the kind of white people who will let themselves be turned away also keeping these places relatively livable? My hometown is probably the only place on LI I could afford to go back to at this point - and I'd be happy to if I thought I could get a design job nearby.
posted by bleep at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


But we shouldn't be fining the agents for having opinions about the likelihood of banks to grant mortgages

Bullshit. That is the same excuse of every discriminatory racist ever. Teachers, bankers, cops, landlords, store owners. Hey, I know it is discriminatory, but I've got to make a living, amirite? Don't blame me. Blame the system.
posted by JackFlash at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


Anyone here from LI who has any experience with the expensive-ass apartments at the Wyandanch LIRR stop? I kind of imagine that place as some sort of gated community full of people who never leave its confines except to get on the train and go to Manhattan.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:22 PM on November 18, 2019


I grew up in Floral Park, a village just East of the Queens line. There were no black families that I ever saw and none in my Catholic grammar school (not sure about the public school). I never saw a black person in person at all until visiting my grandfather's house in Brooklyn. Even as kids we knew there were places that were "better" than others even if we didn't understand why our parents spoke about them that way. This investigation shows that very little has changed.
posted by tommasz at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2019


> So real estate agents are frequently aware of the rates at which approvals happen. They know that discriminatory practices mean that the minority would-be homebuyers are much more likely to struggle for years before they can even think about purchasing a house, and that often even when they're ready, they'll be denied by the banks. They know that white would-be homebuyers suffer much less institutional discrimination, and will be more likely to buy and thus more likely to be able to pay them. So they make choices about their time and effort that exist in a discriminatory system and thus reinforce that system. Should they do it? No, absolutely not. But we shouldn't be fining the agents for having opinions about the likelihood of banks to grant mortgages - we should be destroying the credit system and fining the banks.

I'm extremely sympathetic to the position that pushing back against ingrained patterns of societal behavior requires intervention at the highest levels, and that the firing or naming and shaming of individual agents is not going to make a large dent in this collective action problem.

At the same time, when society is unwilling to take the steps necessary to rein in the excesses of the finance industry that lead them to pursue profits at all costs, and when no regulatory body has enough power to stop these abuses, it is not only not wrong, but essential, to call out those choosing to participate in the system who optimize their personal comfort and individual earning potential at the expense of their clients. It's hard out there for everyone, including real estate agents, and if we're assigning culpability to those involved, an individual agent is way down the list. Nonetheless, they do have a choice to go the extra mile to try to work around the system's constraints. I'm sure there are some agents scraping by trying to do the best they can, working second and third jobs, etc. But there are some who are just going along with the inequitable system who have other choices they can make, along with those in the management of these agencies, and those in the senior leadership of those agencies, who can demand that their staff not simply turn people away because they might not get approved.

If we have to choose which algorithm to apply, top down or bottom up, give me bottom up. But we don't have to choose. If the people named in this story truly believe they're doing the best they can, are powerless to change things, and need the job to survive, then so be it. But if those who have the power to walk away and not participate in the unjust system choose to do so, or or shamed into doing the right thing by the shameful things they're doing, then that's okay, too.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:26 PM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


> If we have to choose which algorithm to apply, top down or bottom up, give me bottom up.

Whoops. I meant to say "give me top down" there.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:13 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you can't make a living in your current job without discriminating illegally, find another job. Period.
posted by praemunire at 2:28 PM on November 18, 2019


.....Reason #8740 why I want out of my current job.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:37 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Since I live in a place that's pretty much been custom built (ruined) for the highest art of money laundering, I've gotten accustomed to people who throw around terms like, "highest best use," and phrases like, "if you want eat steak you have to pay for the steak," so my opinion of these realtors in general is somewhere considerably lower than manure-tainted pond scum with an EPA warning sticker. Racist doesn't even have a chance to come into it, because they have no concept what it means. It absolutely tickles the living shit out of me that populations are deserting New York and San Francisco in the thousands per month, and the "tony" places that foster this behavior are next in line to become Flint and Detroit. The secret to this is to outlive their little dance in the sun, don't give them any money if you can help it, and live in a place with the people you love, in a place you're proud to be a part of, not some gated fauxtopia with HOAs. Also, much better weather most of the year. You'll be a lot happier. The great promise of the internet was that you could live anywhere, and build what you want to see in this world, because you can live. somewhere. else. Don't get mad, get even.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:26 PM on November 18, 2019


I am unsure where Professor Squires (as quoted in the article) got the idea LI was one of the most liberal places in the country.
"Why Long Island Still Loves Trump" (Politico, May 2018 - CW mentions of racist violence)
It's been a Republican stronghold pretty much since the suburbs opened up to non-rich folks, by bonding with the unions.
"Unions and Party Politics on Long Island" (L. Dudkiewicz-Clayman, Regional Labor Review, Spring/Summer 2013, as republished by Hofstra University.)
I clearly remember that shortly after Nixon died, the Suffolk County legislature actually declared a day honoring Nixon. It was a small blurb in Newsday, and I cannot find it on the web, but I swear it is the truth. The closest I've come to finding it is "Grave of Checkers, Nixon's Dog" (Roadside America)
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 7:31 PM on November 18, 2019


Eponysterical!
posted by bleep at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2019


next in line to become Flint and Detroit

Maybe don’t use two famously majority-Black cities as your exemplars of mismanagement and decline in a discussion of racist geography?
posted by Etrigan at 3:52 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


It absolutely tickles the living shit out of me that populations are deserting New York and San Francisco in the thousands per month

San Francisco is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. New York is top 10. It's not at all correct to say people are deserting these places. That's, you know, one of the reasons the prices are high.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Anyone here from LI who has any experience with the expensive-ass apartments at the Wyandanch LIRR stop? I kind of imagine that place as some sort of gated community full of people who never leave its confines except to get on the train and go to Manhattan.

I’m not familiar with that specific set of apartments, but there are similar buildings going up along the whole Ronkonkoma line. There’s three here in Mineola, and yes, they are marketed toward and attract commuters. All the promo materials for the ones here describe only stuff in (wealthy) Garden City. I’m sure the one in Wyandanch similarly advertises the amenities of nearby affluent communities rather than anything about Wyandanch itself.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I take Ronkonkoma and there are also similar developments in Farmingdale in walking distance to downtown that has a lot of bars/restaurants that have opened in recent years. I can’t imagine that the Wyandanch Rising development can make the same claims for amenities.
posted by dr_dank at 9:25 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


For a while I wondered who was living in all those new apartments by the Farmingdale train station, but then they all started going to the hipster coffee shop on the weekends so now I know.

Relatedly, Farmingdale Village is still working on settling the lawsuit they got themselves into more than a decade ago by trying to implement discriminatory plans for redevelopment near the train station.

And yes, Long Island is deeply, painfully racist and classist. I'm a light-skinned man with an Hispanic surname, and I know that there are situations where it's better for me to appear in person (and be perceived as white) rather than by email or even by phone (and likely be perceived as Hispanic). This also means that I get to hear lots of "casual" racism.

My daughter started kindergarten this year, and I'm dreading meeting other parents. Our district is very mixed, although it's still majority white, and lots of those people live on Long Island precisely because of the discriminatory housing practices and de facto segregation described here. There's a lot to like about certain parts of Long Island, but the teeming horde of angry white people who see a brown face on the street and put up a For Sale sign isn't one of them.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


It absolutely tickles the living shit out of me that populations are deserting New York and San Francisco in the thousands per month, and the "tony" places that foster this behavior are next in line to become Flint and Detroit. The secret to this is to outlive their little dance in the sun, don't give them any money if you can help it, and live in a place with the people you love, in a place you're proud to be a part of, not some gated fauxtopia with HOAs.

So those of us who have people we love in New York and are proud to be a part of New York that isn't a gated fauxtopia are....what, fools? Liars? Imaginary?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


In reading more about Wyandanch Rising, the literature and planning seemed to center around the low-income units and the ancillary impact it will have on Wyandanch as a whole. Lots of involvement from PoC, etc. But that was all before it was built. Now that it is there, tiny homes in its vicinity are selling for north of $1M. So who knows. I'm skeptical.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:47 AM on November 19, 2019


I live in Huntington, Long Island, a place often perceived as liberal because of its arts and considerable liberal activism. But they are outnumbered by those who routinely vote Republican. Our town and county voted for Trump in 2016.

One piece of this series is devoted to how agents are specifically steering Hispanics to our town, while not offering listings to white people, even though we are by far a majority white town, though a growing Asian and Hispanic minority. This steering makes absolutely no sense--I can't imagine what they are thinking by trying to direct the makeup of the town.

None of what Newsday reported is brand new but it is extremely well documented and a great reminder about why Long Island is so segregated. What the series doesn't address is why agents would do this and I can only guess it's because they believe they are doing what the residents want.

This is also not the first time Newsday has examined this issue. I'm not sure what effect it will have in the coming years.
posted by etaoin at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


This steering makes absolutely no sense--I can't imagine what they are thinking by trying to direct the makeup of the town.

Just spitballing, but once the non-white population rises above "a few," a lot of white people start to view the neighborhood as a "minority" neighborhood.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Ah, Huntington. May we have a moment of silence for the Hamburger Choo-Choo?
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2019


I'm struggling to find the reference now, but there is social research on how high a percentage of a group or neighborhood can be of color before White people consider it to be a non-white space. I want to say it was around 30%, but I can't verify.
posted by postel's law at 5:36 AM on November 20, 2019


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