Burlington County Times

NJ Bill Would Address Housing Discrimination

Burlington County Times — April 16, 2019

Opinion
By Amanda Smith

As National Fair Housing Month comes to a close, the New Jersey Legislature could soon vote on a bill that would help stop housing discrimination before it happened. S-2472/A-3756 would require brokers, real estate agents and referral agents to complete at least one hour of fair housing education to obtain a real estate license, and complete at least one hour of education as part of a licensee's continuing curriculum.

This legislation may seem like a no-brainer in a state as diverse as ours, and it sailed through committees with overwhelming support. In March, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. What comes as a surprise is that New Jersey has lagged behind many other states in getting to this point.

I worked in real estate for 12 years in Florida as a licensed broker's assistant, conducting transactions and managing the office. To obtain my real estate license, I had to undergo fair housing training, as did every one of the dozens of employees I worked with over the years. In California, Florida and New York, completing fair housing education is required of real estate licensees to obtain and maintain licensure.

Why is this training important? Because, sadly, housing discrimination is rampant in our state. As a fair housing advocate in New Jersey, I witness too many practices like "steering," one of many ways in which agents might discriminate. Steering involves a licensee guiding a home seeker away or toward a certain neighborhood based on that seeker's protected characteristics.

We hear of agents who still steer people of color to live only in areas where people look like them, rather than showing them all available properties. Too often, African Americans searching for housing won't even be shown listings in neighborhoods that are predominantly white. We see families with children being steered from downtown high-rises and toward single-family homes in the suburbs just because they have children.

Other very blatant forms of discrimination continue every day. A client of Middle Eastern descent was told the landlord disliked "people cooking heavy food," before being asked if her marriage was arranged. A client with a mobility disability was denied an assigned handicapped parking spot. Another client with a vision-related disability was charged a pet deposit and monthly fee for her service dog. All of theses practices are illegal under the Fair Housing Act and New Jersey discrimination laws.

These situations prove how much fair housing education is needed. Real estate employees need full training on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in sales, rentals and financing, based on the protected characteristics of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. The law ensures that all people have the right to choose where they want to live, without being subject to discrimination. Licensed employees also need to know the consequences for violating the law, and the best practices to not discriminate, even unintentionally.

At New Jersey Citizen Action, our fair housing staff counsels victims of housing discrimnation, and offers education and technical support to housing providers about their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. Every day, we advocate for victims of discrimination and work diligently to eradicate housing discrimination.

Legislative sponsors from the 7th District, Sen. Troy Singleton and Assembly members Carol Murphy and Herb Conaway, understand the need for fair housing education requirements for real estate professionals. They have done incredible work to advance this legislation. Organizations like New Jersey Realtors understand the need for this as well and have given the bill their full support.

It is my hope that the rest of the Legislature supports this bill and votes to put it on Gov. Phil Murphy's desk. It's time to take the next important step to end housing discrimination in New Jersey.

Amanda Smith is director of fair housing investigations at New Jersey Citizen Action.

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