After a more than two-week long annual conference heavily focused on fair housing, the National Association of Realtors for the first time issued a formal apology for past policies that contributed to segregation and racial inequality nationwide, the trade group announced Thursday.
NAR is the largest trade group in the country at more than 1.4 million members. The association has previously acknowledged that it actively fought passage of the Fair Housing Act and that it did not strike discrimination from its code of ethics until six years after its passage. NAR has also admitted that “many Realtors were complicit in odious practices like redlining and enforcing racial covenants” well into the 1960s. Moreover, the association long excluded members based on race or sex.
In a press release, NAR noted that its discrimination was “part of a systematic policy of residential racial segregation, led by the federal government and supported by America’s banking system and real estate industry.”
Newly installed NAR President Charlie Oppler made the “emotional apology” on behalf of the industry during a virtual fair housing summit hosted by The Hill and co-sponsored by NAR, the trade group said.
“What Realtors did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals,” Oppler said. “It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality. I’m here today, as the President of the National Association of Realtors, to say that we were wrong.”
“We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past, but we can look at this problem squarely in the eye. And, on behalf of our industry, we can say that what Realtors did was shameful, and we are sorry.”
“Because of our past mistakes, the real estate industry has a special role to play in the fight for fair housing,” Oppler added.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Donnell Williams, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) — a trade group formed in 1947 because NAR excluded black Americans — said NAR’s apology is long overdue and falls short of the need for reparations to compensate African-Americans for the financial disadvantages caused by discrimination.
“The difference of Black-American wealth and White wealth is tied directly to homeownership,” Williams told Bloomberg in a phone interview. “They manipulated the entire system.”
On Wednesday, after musician John Legend urged Realtors to hold themselves accountable on housing discrimination, NAR said it had intensified its efforts to support fair housing after Newsday’s groundbreaking, three-year investigation of agent discrimination in Long Island’s housing market came out last year. The trade group debuted a fair housing plan, ACT, in January and released an implicit bias training video in July that aims to help agents recognize biases that “persist despite best intentions and often without conscious awareness.”
Last week, the trade group passed controversial changes to its professional standards to crack down on racist and discriminatory speech and behavior as well as new standards for its local associations and multiple listing services that require certain fair housing components.
And now NAR has launched Fairhaven, which is part of NAR’s ACT plan. The trade group described Fairhaven as a free, online “immersive simulation” where, in the fictional town of Fairhaven, agents must choose how to respond to various scenarios involving discrimination as they work against the clock to close four deals.
Realtors receive customized feedback as they advance through the simulation based on their answers and they can save their work as they go.
“In an innovative approach, the course also places agents in the role of a client experiencing discrimination. The client point-of-view scenarios are paired with powerful testimonials illustrating the impact of housing discrimination in real people’s lives,” NAR said.
Fairhaven will be offered directly to NAR members and to brokerage firms and Realtor associations, the trade group added. In a RealtorMag article, NAR said the training could take up to two hours or go more quickly based on the user’s fair housing knowledge and agents will receive a certificate of completion they can share with their broker.
“Realtors have an admittedly tough history, but we have turned the corner and now have emerged as leaders on these important issues,” said Bryan Greene, NAR’s director of fair housing policy.
“You can see in our neighborhoods the imprints of redlining from 80 years ago,” Greene added. “Many of these discriminatory practices denied the opportunities for families to pass on wealth, and we see that white Americans own 10 times the wealth of African-Americans.
“So, these are serious issues, and they have broader impacts on society beyond housing. It means that we have health disparities, employment disparities, educational disparities. This is the legacy of the past … We have to address it.”