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Shokouhi
From: 2010-05-17 12:56:43

Steve Shokouhi cannot help boasting. As he strides through billows of dust in his nearly finished luxury rental building, the Aire, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he proudly points out the amenities like the tamo wood paneling from Japan for the lobby, the sun-drenched gym and the children’s outdoor play space. But one of the most coveted perks, he says, is the building’s location in the high-scoring Public School 199 school district.
“It adds a new dimension to a development, especially if you are focused on families,” said Mr. Shokouhi, who developed the building. “We would definitely promote that.”
Not so fast. Robert Scaglion, a senior managing director for Rose Associates, which will manage and market the building, is hesitant to promote P.S. 199 in its advertisements; on the building’s Web site, it simply mentions its proximity to “Central Park, Riverside Park, Lincoln Center, Juilliard, theaters, prominent schools and universities.”
It takes only a cursory understanding of real estate to realize that schools drive rental and sales prices as much as building financials, Central Park views and amenities like gyms and doormen. But some real estate experts say that what would seem to be an innocuous bit of marketing — mentioning that a classic six apartment, say, is zoned for Public School 87 — can raise legal issues, including concerns that subtle racial steering is going on. While the Real Estate Board of New York does not have an official written policy, its president, Steve Spinola, advises brokers not to include schools in listings because he fears they could violate the Fair Housing Act. Most major brokerages follow the Real Estate Board’s advice and urge brokers to omit public school listings.
Neil Garfinkel, a lawyer who runs a legal hot line for the Real Estate Board and teaches classes on fair housing for brokers, spends a lot of time discouraging them from including schools in advertisements. He understands that the Department of Housing and Urban Development may not pursue every Manhattan broker who lists better-known schools like Public Schools 6 or 234.
But that doesn’t mean brokers are totally safe. In the past, he said, there have been examples of brokers using the discussion of schools to steer white buyers to certain areas by promoting “good schools” as a code phrase for “white neighborhood” while not mentioning the same schools to minority buyers.
“If they’re using that shorthand to express a preference for who they want to come here, that’s absolutely a violation,” he said.
 

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