The National Association of Realtors (NAR) spent part of its annual midyear conference in Washington, D.C., reckoning with a dark past — one of exclusion and racism.
Now members of the trade association are calling on NAR in a letter to honor a promise of fair housing and dump its financial support of California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher after he voiced opposition to a congressional bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Fair Housing Act, something that complies with NAR’s own code of ethics.
“Dana Rohrabacher’s outrageous comments sadly aren’t too surprising given his history of contempt for the equal rights of the LGBT community,” said John Graff, founder of Graff Real Estate in Los Angeles and chair of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals’ (NAGLREP) policy committee.
“Elected officials who espouse views so contrary to the fair housing commitment of [NAR] do not deserve the political support of the organization nor the title of ‘Realtor Champion,’” he added. “To do so belittles the Realtor Code of Ethics and harms our collective commitment to fair housing.”
Rohrabacher’s opposition to the bill — HR1447 — came to light after the Congressman met with Wayne Woodyard, a California Realtor and member of both NAGLREP and NAR. Woodyard brought up the house bill, which was introduced by Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Taylor last year.
“He refused to support and was adamant that every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone that they don’t agree with their ‘lifestyle,’” Woodyard said, according to a statement from NAGLREP.
Jeff Berger, a Florida Realtor and founder of NAGLREP not only wants support for Rohrabacher pulled, he wants NAR to take it a step further and stop donating money to all candidates who don’t support the bill and other LGBTQ issues.
“If NAR has a code of ethics, isn’t it their obligation to their membership that the people they support abide by their code of ethics?” Berger asked. “If NAR cares about fair housing, why are they supporting candidates that are anti-LGBT? It’s very concerning.”
The Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) — the political lobbying arm of NAR — donated $4,000 to Rohrabacher’s re-election campaign in January 2018, after donating $1,000 in December 2017. The organization, according to Federal Election Commission filings, has supported Rohrabacher as far back as 1997. Rohrabacher is also currently listed as a “Realtor Champion,” someone who NAR encourages its members to donate to directly through its President’s Circle program.
At press time, members of the President’s Circle — which can be achieved by reaching a certain level of donations — could still donate directly to Rohrabacher through the program, according to a screenshot shared with Inman.
A spokesperson for NAR told Inman that the organization evaluates many different criteria before deciding to support a candidate.
“A specific request to withhold support will be an important factor in the usual decision-making process among the local, state and national associations,” the spokesperson said. “After receiving the letter this afternoon, we will now begin the candidate review process with this additional information.”
Matt Difanis, the 2018 President of Illinois Realtors, also attended NAR’s midyear conference. What he saw were political leaders divided over NAR’s support for HR1447, many accusing the trade organization of becoming a liberal social advocacy organization.
“I saw a microcosm of this dichotomy in my own state’s congressional visits on the hill,” he said. “The conservative Republicans predominantly from downstate were shocked, slightly appalled and pushed back a bit [on HR 1447].”
“We have to be able to get [RPAC] initiatives pushed through with the help of members on both sides of the aisle,” he added. “There’s always going to be an issue of limited political capital, and we have to spend it judiciously.”
At the NAR board of directors meeting, which closed out the midyear conference, the organization passed a resolution acknowledging its own history of exclusion but also pledged to “actively recommend and seek legislation to provide for equal housing opportunity based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“The NAR Code of Ethics is far ahead of Congress on gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination,” a spokesperson for NAR said. “We certainly hope that Congress will follow the lead set at our recent legislative meetings and support the elimination of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The resolution also publicly thanked organizations including NAGLREP, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the Asian Real Estate Association of America, the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and the Women’s Council of Realtors for their advocacy.
Dilfanis said the acknowledgement of the past was important for so many of the organizations that put time and advocacy into supporting fair housing, especially when they were excluded from NAR.
“I think there’s a sense of, ‘there’s only so much progress you can expect us to make as partners if there’s never been a formal acknowledgement that we had to go at it on our own in the first place because you literally would not admit us as members,’” Dilfanis said.
Editor’s note: Since this story published, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has officially dropped Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Orange County California, from it’s President’s Circle donation program.