updated 6/7/2005 7:17:24 AM ET 2005-06-07T11:17:24

Tests designed to uncover discrimination found that nearly half the real estate agencies in New York City’s northern suburbs treated blacks and Hispanics unfairly, an equal-housing group alleged Monday.

Findings related to the most egregious offenders — seven of 25 Westchester County agencies — are being referred to state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer or to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for investigation, said Toni Downes, executive director of Westchester Residential Opportunities.

The group said it used its testers in areas that are heavily white and have good stocks of moderately priced apartments.

“It is shocking that we are still doing this,” Downes said, noting it’s been 37 years since the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The fair-housing group, with funds supplied by the attorney general’s office, conducted 58 tests at 25 agencies between July 2004 and February 2005. First it sent a white person to inquire about available rentals, then a minority assuming the same income, family and other characteristics of the white person.

Ethnic, racial ‘steering’
In 27 instances at 12 agencies, unequal treatment based on race or ethnicity or racial “steering” to certain neighborhoods was found, the group alleged.

Downes said discrimination was clear in a comparison of the number of apartments shown minority testers with those shown white testers.

Minorities “were not shown the apartments they should have been shown,” she said. “In many instances they were not shown any at all.”

Nick Beilenson, president of the board at Westchester Residential Opportunities, said a typical case of discrimination might occur when an agent “panders to the owner of the apartment, when he feels ‘If we send a minority to this apartment the owners are not going to like it.”’ That’s a violation of the law, he noted.

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