More education for members and changes to the code of ethics is certainly a great start, but there’s more that can be done. Here, one broker weighs in on what NAR can do to prevent future discrimination and promote fair housing.

So much has happened this year that it is hard to keep up, and in case anyone forgot, 2020 was the year that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) apologized for policies that contributed to racial inequality. NAR also apologized for discriminating against its members.

There are members of NAR who are upset by this and wish that NAR would not have called attention to past wrongs that may make us all look bad. The apology is already history, and I don’t think it got much notice from the general public during this most distracting year.

We are the face of real estate so to speak — and our actions do matter. Right now, many of us are focused on our actions, and we want to do better. Maybe there’s something we can do now to help right some of the historic wrongs. Disparities in housing can lead to disparities in education, health care and wages. The economic impacts can be felt for generations.

The main reason NAR exists is to promote members’ interests and help members make money. Making money and fair housing don’t always go together, which is why, at one time, the code of ethics favored racial deed restrictions and redlining.

NAR has lobbied for rules that do not promote fair housing. Tax breaks for people who borrow a lot of money to buy expensive houses don’t promote fair housing or homeownership (the mortgage interest tax deduction). They do, however, help Realtors and people who can afford expensive homes.

Which bills will NAR support in 2021 that will help some members but not help close the homeownership gap? I don’t think racial disparities are even on the radar at the NAR, and it may not even be an appropriate issue for a trade group.

At the very least, NAR should not be pushing legislation that makes racial disparities worse. Is there anyone looking at legislation from that point of view? Is NAR doomed to be on the wrong side of history again by not supporting or lobbying against a rule or law that promotes fair housing?

NAR has increased the number of fair housing classes available for members, and there are the recent changes to the code of ethics to address racism between members and the general public. How would a member address a racist NAR policy or action that affects members?

There aren’t any internal systems in place so that members or others can call attention to discriminatory policies or actions by NAR. There isn’t a way for members to communicate with NAR at all when it comes to policies or lobbying efforts.

It doesn’t look like anything has been put in place to keep NAR from unintentionally discriminating against its own members. All to say, I think there are still many opportunities to be more inclusive.

One of the associations I belong to has helped pass a law that I think promotes housing segregation. As a member, I don’t have a way to address the issue and start a conversation about it with the decision makers.

There doesn’t seem to be anything in place at NAR or any of the associations I belong to that allows members to point out possible discriminatory policies or possible fair housing violations. We can only file complaints against other members.

A couple of months ago, I encountered what I believed was a violation of local fair housing laws. The rule was made by our MLS. I wanted to bring the issue forward, but I quickly discovered that there wasn’t a way for me to have it addressed. My choices were to break the rules — or to take it up with the local department of human rights. I decided to break the rules.

Sure, there are huge committees with a lot of people on them, but NAR isn’t a democracy. I can’t write to my representative and make a suggestion. In fact, it is very hard to even find out who is in charge of what within NAR.

I once joked to a friend (who’s been a member of NAR for decades and holds leadership positions on some of the more prestigious committees) that NAR should have a user’s guide — a kind of manual members can use. Maybe that user’s manual would answer most of the questions I’m raising in this article.

My ignorance of how to navigate NAR has led to numerous faux pas on my part. I have unintendedly antagonized other members and some NAR employees with my questions. Almost any kind of question is met with hostility by my fellow members.

One of the worst problems NAR has is the way members treat each other. Comments and questions are met with dismissiveness, and hostility and defensiveness make it difficult to have discussions with other members.

All to say, we need to prevent future discrimination against members and the general public. More education for members and changes to the code of ethics is certainly a great start — but I think NAR will need to change, too.

There needs to be a system of checks and balances, and a lot more transparency so we don’t end up on the wrong side of history again and again. There needs to be a way for members to call attention to injustices and conflicts of interest within the organization.

As a member, I would like to know that NAR is promoting fair housing on every level and that each piece of legislation that NAR supports also supports fair housing. I would also like to know that all members are listened to and respected.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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