September 8, 2020

Partner Profile: Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York I

Earlier this year, Enterprise and New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced a grant for the Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York (EBHNY) program. Through the program, Enterprise will oversee $4.5 million in grant funds over two years to six fair housing organizations across the state with the goal of eliminating systemic discrimination based on race, national origin, disability, source of income, and other federal, state and local protected classes.

In this two-part series, we’re excited to share details about two of these organizations’ work and plans for the EBHNY funding, beginning with Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) in Queens, New York.

Elizabeth Ginsburg, Enterprise Community Partners: Can you share a recent initiative your organization has undertaken that best highlights your mission?

FHJC: The mission of the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws. Since the FHJC opened its doors in 2005, its “Acting for Justice” testing program has greatly advanced the mission of the organization. Through a partnership with The Actors Fund, the FHJC recruits, hires, and trains underemployed actors to participate in undercover investigations into housing discrimination.

The testing program has trained over 180 professional actors to assist with investigations that uncover systemic patterns of discrimination in the regional housing market. FHJC investigations have resulted in legal action that has opened over 67,000 units of housing to previously excluded populations, recovered nearly $43 million in damages and penalties, and changed the way many housing providers do business.     

EG: What are the FHJC’s priorities for the EBNHY funds?

FHJC: For the remainder of this year, the FHJC is using EBHNY funds to implement a new program-wide data management system, build its capacity to conduct systemic testing investigations, create a new fair housing training program for trainers, and update rental search logs in English and Spanish for households with rental subsidies who are searching for apartments.

Next year, the FHJC is hoping to focus EBHNY resources on implementing a number of systemic testing investigations throughout the New York City region to investigate discrimination based on race, national origin, disability and source of income involving the sale, rental, and financing of housing.

EG: As organizations have had to adapt and adjust priorities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, what has FHJC been focusing on over the past few months? 

FHJC: While the pandemic forced FHJC to suspend most of its testing activities, the organization continues to track housing discrimination complaints, work on policy issues, conduct virtual educational and training presentations, and plan for future systemic testing investigations. The FHJC has used this time to focus on building greater capacity while continuing to monitor housing market practices for Covid-19-related discrimination.

EG: Given the ongoing protests challenging systemic racism and racial inequality across our country, how has your organization worked with race as a protected class, and how have your efforts to combat racial discrimination evolved?

FHJC: Dozens of lawsuits have been filed alleging racial discrimination by major landlords, property management organizations, and real estate companies as a result of FHJC’s investigations.

The FHJC brought a successful lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by a real estate broker and two large housing co-ops with over 1000 homes in the Bronx. The FHJC filed the only two racial discrimination cases against Banks in the 52-year history of the federal Fair Housing Act based primarily on testing evidence. The FHJC has investigated and filed lawsuits against numerous suburban communities and housing authorities for racially discriminatory residency preferences and other discriminatory practices.

In addition, the FHJC has educated the public about systemic racial discrimination in the housing market through its award-winning 2013 documentary short called “A Matter of Place and in 2016 when the FHJC program was featured by Norman Lear in an EPIX docuseries called “America Divided.” 

More recently, the FHJC spent three years assisting Newsday with the largest journalistic investigation into real estate sales practices and racial steering ever conducted in the nation. 

As a result, Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” investigation found that African American home buyers faced steering or other racially discriminatory practices 49 percent of the time and Hispanic home buyers confronted similar treatment 39 percent of the time.  Racial discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing is a persistent and pervasive fact of life in the New York City region.    

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