HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty

Sometimes it can seem like politics has invaded every aspect of our lives. I suspect part of that feeling stems from the fact that we get so much of our news from the Internet, and sensational, provocative headlines get more open clicks. Also, the phenomena of celebrities commenting on the news being newsworthy is a head scratcher for me. There are two current issues that dominate the news which have become deeply politicized and which I believe should rise above politics, issues related to COVID-19 (vaccines and masks) and issues concerning diversity.

In some ways I believe the most significant barrier to achieving a consensus on COVID vaccines and mask policies is the sheer volume of news (and misinformation) on the web. While it’s easy to say that this should not be a political issue it has clearly become one, with politicians on both sides of the aisle lobbing grenades trying to score political points. There are two hard realities that bookend this debate. With the surge of the Delta variant, more people, especially the unvaccinated and the young, are being hospitalized and are dying, and our economic recovery, which is fragile at best, could come crashing back down if there are renewed lockdowns. We need to get beyond the politics on this issue because the consequences are affecting us all.

I recognize that the topic of diversity can be even more contentious and polarizing. It shouldn’t be. Last year, after the murder of George Floyd, protests surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion erupted across the country. Some of those protests turned violent. ‘The large majority did not. The bottom line is that those protests led to long overdue reflections and conversation about racial inequities, systemic racism and how we can promote inclusion and address equity issues within our profession and in our communities.

Past President Gail Fattizzi assembled a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, chaired by this year’s President Crystal Hawkins Syska, that engaged in the difficult conversations and made several recommendations, including the creation of a DEI Standing Committee, the hiring of a DEI Officer, and the creation of a DEI survey to determine just how diverse our association membership is, to enable us to make decisions based upon facts and not assumptions.

The HGAR Directors authorized all of these recommendations and also engaged in difficult discussions wherein it became evident that some members from minority backgrounds felt under-represented in their own association, and that systemic racism was prevalent in the communities where we live and work.

HGAR recently completed the DEI survey and more than 1,200 members participated. We have had some feedback that certain survey questions were too personal and intrusive, and I appreciate that feedback. We wanted to get a sense of how many of our members identified as belonging to a protected class under the federal, state and local fair housing laws, and we felt it was important to include all of the protected classes, and not cherry pick some over others.

My sense from some of the feedback to the survey is that some believe that fair housing training is necessary and important, but diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are politically motivated. I couldn’t disagree more. Discrimination doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s the result of deeply embedded prejudices that we all have. We need to bring those prejudices out into the open and embrace the diversity of our association and make sure every member feels included and that the association truly does represent them. We need to recognize that real estate ownership as a building block of wealth should be available to all and acknowledge that historically this has not been the case.

I look forward to the ongoing work of the DEI Committee, chaired by Christina Stevens and Tony Ruperto, and aided by HGAR’s DEI Officer Freddy Garcia. This work should not be about politics, it should be about doing what is right for our members and our communities.

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