PRESIDENT'S CORNER: Realtors Must Commit to Promote And Uphold Fair Housing Practices

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday because he was a transformative leader whose words and actions advanced a vision of the nation as it should be—one in which all people have equal opportunity. However, too few people realize just what a huge role housing plays in this legacy—or that these hard-fought protections are now under threat.

Today, as we mark the 54th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act during Fair Housing Month, housing discrimination persists despite fair housing laws that prohibit it.

It is true that the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 prevents discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status, making redlining and blatant racial discrimination illegal.

While the real estate industry, like so many other industries across the country, continues to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot turn our backs on history and the important place to which it has led us. While the medical community has worked valiantly in the fight against the deadly pandemic, policymakers have largely failed to connect the dots between COVID-19 and the biggest driver of overall inequality between whites, and Black and Brown people: residential segregation.

Recent data from the census and research from the Urban Institute show that black and brown homeownership rates have declined to levels not seen since the 1960s. More than one in every four black Americans and one in every six Latino Americans live in neighborhoods marked by extreme poverty, compared to one in 13 white Americans.

As the Center for American Progress states, “For centuries, structural racism in the U.S. housing system has contributed to stark and persistent racial disparities in wealth and financial well-being, especially between Black and white households. In fact, these differences are so entrenched that if current trends continue, it could take more than 200 years for the average Black family to accumulate the same amount of wealth as its white counterparts.”

In Dr. King’s words, “The challenge ahead is to work passionately and unrelentingly to remove racial injustice from every area of our nation’s life. In order to do this, it will be necessary to develop a powerful, creative action program. This problem will not solve itself. It will not work itself out. Massive action programs will be necessary all over the nation in order to remove the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination.”

I urge you to renew your commitment to eliminate systemic racism. We must advocate for reforms to advance social justice. Where you live matters deeply, and fair housing opportunities have a significant and lasting impact on every aspect of a person’s life and their health outcomes. Communities of color have more hazardous and toxic waste facilities; more polluted land, air and water; fewer banking options, health care and fitness facilities; less green space and access to fresh food and water.

New York State also took significant steps in June 2021 to address racial discrimination in housing, as the Legislature approved seven bills to that end. Among other actions, the legislation, recently signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul:

• Doubles the maximum fine imposed on real estate brokers and salespeople who violate the law, and adds a surcharge to the licensing fee paid by real estate brokers and salespeople.

• Directs funding from those sources to be used by the Attorney General for fair housing testing and other grants to local agencies and non-profits to fight housing discrimination.

• Requires additional training for the licensing of brokers and salespeople and renewing those licenses.

• Establishes that all state and local agencies that administer state housing programs, and all organizations that receive state housing funds, are obliged to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

We must never forget how far down the road we have come, yet there is a long road ahead. Rampant discriminatory practices like those uncovered in Long Island by Newsday are not uncommon nor isolated to just those communities. We still have more work to do and we must remain vigilant by calling out bias when we see it. At the same time, we must stand ready to collaborate and work with other champions for justice to promote fairness and equality to eradicate biased behaviors and practices.

As your 2022 President of HGAR, I renewed the Fair Housing Challenge. NAR continues to strengthen its commitment to fair housing in the real estate industry, as does HGAR. I urge all our members in the association to participate in the Fair Housing Challenge by completing the Fairhaven Fair Housing Simulation and Implicit Bias Training. To go the extra mile, consider the added opportunity of earning NAR’s At Home with Diversity® Certification. Completing these three programs will empower Realtors to: confront and check their own biases; honor the Fair Housing Act and work to end discrimination in housing, one interaction at a time.

Our nation has failed to achieve the goals of the Fair Housing Act because of a lack of commitment to fully implement the laws or eliminating the structural barriers put in place by centuries of race-based, harmful policies. We must now renew our commitment to do so. In addition to the moral imperative, it promises a clear financial benefit for all parts of our country—city, suburb and rural—and for all people of all backgrounds.

As Realtors, we have a responsibility to uphold Fair Housing practices that ultimately impact the lives of so many; we have a responsibility to support a person’s right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination. I call on all Realtors to take the time to focus on this extremely important obligation.

Right now, we are all continuing to restore health to our families, friends, neighbors, state and nation as a whole. But, as we get past the COVID crisis, it is critical that we each do our part to make sure that home buyers and renters everywhere are treated fairly and equally. We at HGAR stand united to say that we support and promise to implement fair housing standards, practices and equal access to housing for all. That’s Who We R.

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