The National Association of Realtors is working on a self-testing program for real estate brokers who want to make sure their agents are complying with fair housing laws, according to Bryan Greene, NAR’s director of fair housing policy.
Greene spoke at the Idea Exchange Council for Brokers Forum at NAR’s annual conference, the Realtors Conference & Expo, on Thursday. The forum took on the topic of housing discrimination and invited Bill Dedman, investigative reporter for Newsday and now a NAR consultant, to speak. Dedman was part of the team behind a groundbreaking, three-year investigation that revealed widespread agent bias against consumers of color on Long Island.
The award-winning investigation, “Long Island Divided,” which included 100 agents at 12 of Long Island’s largest brokerages and 25 trained fair housing pair testers, revealed that, in 86 paired tests, black buyers were discriminated against 49 percent of the time, while Hispanic and Asian buyers were discriminated against 39 percent and 19 percent of the time, respectively. The interactions were videotaped via hidden cameras legally worn by the testers.
Greene, who worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) before joining NAR a year ago, said the Newsday investigation — which broke three weeks into his tenure at the trade group — sharpened his focus on what he wanted to do at NAR and made him realize that fair housing training needed to be more effective and that people who engaged in steering needed to be held accountable.
In January, NAR debuted its fair housing action plan, dubbed “ACT” for accountability, culture change and training, part of which called for exploring “the creation of a voluntary self-testing program, in partnership with a fair housing organization, as a resource for brokers and others who want confidential reports on agent practices so they can address problems.”
That self-testing program is currently in development, according to NAR.
“We have invested resources in trying to create an infrastructure where companies can come to NAR and say, ‘All right, I’m in. I want to do self testing,’ and they don’t have to make all the arrangements, that we already have the relationship, the structure, the methodology, to work with testers who can do this, where it really is plug and play,” Greene told attendees.
“It’s a Herculean effort to get this kind of thing off the ground, but that’s exactly what we want to do. This way, you can learn as a company what’s going on and you don’t have to have a newspaper come and expose what you’re doing or a private fair housing group test and sue you. You can actually get ahead of these issues.”
Dedman pointed out that NRT CEO M. Ryan Gorman testified at a New York State Senate hearing on housing discrimination that he’s in favor of his company testing its own agents as a way to monitor compliance with fair housing laws.
“If that were to occur, if the largest real estate company in America were testing its agents randomly, or when it had a suspicion, even in small numbers around the country, I think that is the sort of thing that could have an effect,” Dedman said.
In an emailed statement, Mantill Williams, NAR’s vice president of public relations and communication strategy, told Inman the program is a “major commitment” by the 1.4 million-member trade group.
“Testing is critically important to uncovering discrimination in real estate sales because this type of discrimination is often hidden from view. As described in the Newsday investigation, testers posing as prospective homebuyers had no way of knowing that they were treated differently from other prospective buyers based on race until they came together and compared the treatment they received. Most prospective homebuyers never get such an opportunity,” Williams said.
He added, “We are hopeful that many brokerages will embrace this opportunity.”
NAR is also creating a film, set to be released by the end of the year, showcasing agents and brokers that have made fair housing a priority, according to Greene.
“We do have people who … in the industry have a reputation as leaders on this issue … who can speak compellingly to why fair housing has been a major feature of their company and how they make sure, in the case of brokers, that their companies are living and breathing fair housing,” he said.
“I think hearing from peers is probably the most effective way to convince others that these are best practices they need to adopt.”
Dedman said he thought that New York would likely do more testing and training required by the state, probably paid for by Realtors through some kind of licensing tax.
“We don’t know if any of the agents in New York will be disciplined. That hasn’t come down yet. But focusing on individual agents wasn’t really our focus. But it may be that you’ll see more enforcement,” he said.