Within a week after the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, was passed. The next year, what has developed into Long Island's premier and unique Fair Housing organization was formed through the then Smithaven Ministries. The idea came together from volunteers representing civic and religious group leaders concerned about racially discriminatory practices and segregation on Long Island. Well qualified, prospective black purchasers and renters were unable to secure housing and get honest information about opportunities so easily available to whites.
In the early 1970's the group incorporated and became an independent, non-profit, fair housing agency that came to be well known as Suffolk Housing Services. The group successfully challenged real estate agencies, management companies, landlords, and owners where investigation revealed solid evidence for discrimination. In the middle 1980's the agency became nationally acclaimed for its investigation and testing abilities with an Eastern District landmark jury award of $565,000 in favor of two black air traffic controllers. LIHS conducted tests which proved that black prospective tenants were falsely denied rental housing at the Watergate Apartments in Patchogue, New York.
In 1991 the agency expanded its services to investigate discrimination in Nassau County and became Long Island Housing Services. LIHS' work in challenging all kinds of discrimination, but especially race, handicap, and familial status has received national attention. For example, in 1994 LIHS' successful testing program was highlighted on CBS' "48 Hours" news magazine show. The story featured undercover black and white testers being given false information about availability of housing by the broker. Now, at the start of the 21st Century, LIHS continues to lead in challenging racial discrimination and has also become established as the lead Long Island agency challenging unlawful disability discrimination. In 2002, the agency successfully conciliated landmark complaints against several major developers in pursuing compliance with the Fair Housing Act's requirements for accessibility in multi-family design and construction.
The agency's primary objectives are to promote racial integration and equal housing opportunity throughout Long Island; to reduce and eliminate unlawful housing discrimination; to encourage the development of low-income and affordable housing; and to educate and assist the public regarding housing rights and opportunities in the region. LIHS' activities also include fair housing testing and advocacy, facilitating enforcement, making presentations to the public, and serving as a clearinghouse for information. Other services provided by LIHS include landlord/tenant counseling, education and outreach, mortgage default counseling, reverse mortgage counseling, and pre/post home purchase counseling.
LIHS does not charge a fee for individual services. However, as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, LIHS seeks to secure grants and private and corporate donations in order to continue its fair housing work. All donations are 100% tax deductible. The volunteer Board of Directors and professional staff serve as a resource in the field of fair housing to other non-profit and government agencies, corporations, and individuals.