The timing of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s housing discrimination lawsuit against a Glenville apartment complex — four months before the gubernatorial election for an investigation he started more than a year ago — was certainly a little suspect. And even Cuomo acknowledged in announcing the suit Tuesday that subtle biases of the sort allegedly practiced by Shady Lane Apartment managers remain common in the housing industry. But it’s nonetheless hard to find fault with Cuomo for bringing them to the public’s attention, and for making some effort to stop them.
According to the attorney general’s investigation, Shady Lane’s managers were less accommodating to potential rental customers who were black or had young children, than those who were white or childless. For example, they allegedly asked the African-American applicants to fill out forms and make appointments before letting them view vacant apartments, while Caucasian applicants could get in with no such hurdles. White applicants were given first-class tours of the apartments and encouragement to rent them, while blacks were essentially left on their own.
Similarly, potential renters with children were told that no vacancies existed while, later on the very same day, investigators posing as applicants who said they had no children were shown available apartments immediately.
There was a time in this country when landlords, real estate brokers and banks could subtly, or not so subtly, steer people whom they may have been personally biased against because of race, gender or age, away from their buildings and neighborhoods. Though such discrimination has been illegal since 1968, it does still exist, to greater and lesser degrees. And sadly, it probably always will because it’s not often easy to prove and the will to eliminate it doesn’t seem all that strong — except, perhaps, in election years.