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NYC To Hire 'Secret Shoppers' To Weed Out Discriminatory Brokers, Landlords

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has outlined a plan to try and stamp out discriminatory housing practices that involves covertly testing brokers and owners for discriminatory practices.

The "Where We Live Draft Plan," released Tuesday, follows two years of community consultation, according to city officials. The new plan features what's known as the Fair Housing Litigation Unit, which will be charged with rolling out “secret shoppers” to see if owners or brokers are discriminating against people based on their race, income or because of a disability.

“As the Trump Administration rolls back protections against housing discrimination, we are stepping up to ensure that the doors of opportunity are open to every New Yorker and those who discriminate are held accountable,” de Blasio said in a release. “Across the country, Americans are living with the legacy of segregation. In New York City, we’re charting a path forward to continue to make New York the fairest big city in America.”

The director of the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, Jackie Bray, told The Real Deal the unit will have a $2M yearly budget, and $750K will be spent on testing. Secret shoppers will be sent out to check for unfair housing practices, and the information they gather will be used alongside data scraping and close examination of portfolios.

Those caught could face fines or lose their broker's license, per TRD. The unit — made up of lawyers, researchers and market testers — will seek to educate brokers and owners on discrimination. The city will be holding a public hearing on the draft next month. 

“I think this is a more aggressive approach and definitely needed,” Angelo Rodriguez, the managing director of NY Casa Group, a Brooklyn-based brokerage, told TRD. “I’ve turned down in my career at least a dozen landlords who’ve asked me to discriminate.”

Dealing with challenge of affordable housing has been a signature platform for the de Blasio administration, now in its second term, as the city faces an ongoing crisis.

Thousands of New York City residents are rent-burdened, and the city has sought to address the problem through rezonings, the creation of affordable homes and proving more legal assistance to tenants facing eviction.

This time last year, de Blasio announced the creation of the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, and said that the city would “seize" buildings from the worst landlords.