This article series is largely taken from How to Be an Anti-Racist Real Estate Pro with permission from the author.
For this year’s Black History Month, and because we are still in a pandemic, I leaped at the opportunity to virtually participate in the Equitable Dinners series: Lift Every Voice Racial Equity and Poverty, a series of online conversations that “inspires anti-racism action through art and courageous conversation.”
From soul-shaking poetry to a one-person play, this was a great way to bring our community together to reflect. Because it used Zoom, we were able to have breakout rooms with a handful of participants to share our personal reflections.
In our breakout, one participant shared earnestly and somewhat curiously, “My friends and I get how redlining and restrictive covenants prevented people of color from homeownership before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But it seems the systems aren’t racist anymore; we have laws to stop that now. Instead, it just seems that it is based on a person’s financial situation.” I appreciated this white woman speaking up because I realize her sentiment likely reflects that of others.
‘The systems aren’t racist anymore; we have laws to stop that now’
Yet, real talk, we all know that the presence of laws does not mean there aren’t lawbreakers. The presence of laws simply means that there is now the possibility of a penalty if one is caught and convicted. If you have ever seen Dateline — the TV show that often featured the horrifying, tragic and cautionary stories of missing or murdered people — you get this reality.
In truth, spotting lawbreakers requires an enduring vigilance that frankly can be both tricky and exhausting. The same is true in real estate because fair housing laws do not stop cold turkey the remnants of racism in housing, which I will categorize under verbal gymnastics and lingering aftershocks.
Verbal gymnastics: Steering, false information and prerequisite inconsistencies
The controversial 2019 Newsday housing exposè and the subsequent state legislature hearings in 2020 caught on camera what felt like to me could be a new Olympic event: verbal gymnastics. Prospects for housing (the testers) were given different, inconsistent, and in some cases, downright false information and prerequisites to complete.
More current than the Newsday report, an interracial Ohio couple in January 2021 filed a lawsuit alleging they were discouraged from purchasing in an exclusively white Michigan neighborhood by the white real estate agents (yes, that is plural) involved.
In all of these recent instances, at best, the real estate agents tested and/or sued revealed poorly managed paperwork and nonexistent client systems. At worst, the real estate agents tested and/or sued revealed a thinly veiled attempt to illegally steer prospects.
The argument for the former may sound like “my intent was not to violate fair housing; I simply do things differently for the different needs of my clients.” That’s still not legal in this context. For the latter, it could be that the intent was to outright violate fair housing. That’s definitely not legal in this context.
Real talk: The fair housing laws do not require intent as a state of mind (mens rea), but rather these acts examine the actions (or omission of actions) and the resulting effects (actus reus). Thus, the somewhat childlike plea of “I did not mean to” does not free one of guilt when it comes to breaking fair housing laws. For the people in the back, let me be clear:
Our intentions may have been pure. And we may even say, “I do not have a racist bone in my body; just ask those that know me,” “I have friends/family of other races,” “I only see green” or other defenses to show your prejudice-free heart. Yet, if our actions (or omitted actions) violate fair housing laws, then we have broken the law period.
Impact is greater than intentions. The solution, then, is not solely being a well-meaning real estate pro but actively an antiracist real estate pro. (Check out the complimentary e-book, How to be An Anti-Racist Real Estate Pro).
What other proactive steps should we take as individuals as well as members of realty firms and associations?
I am so glad you asked (wink, wink)! Be sure to watch and grab the gems (that I have dubbed Rothstein’s Recommendations) that Richard Rothstein, the author of the seminal work The Color of Law, shares in this information-packed interview, including:
- What realty firms and associations should do beyond giving an apology.
- Why a voluntary reparations fund is needed (here’s an example that your community can follow).
- The importance of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) communities within our firms and associations but also taking J.E.D.I. direct action in the surrounding neighborhood.
- The importance of real estate associations (and firms) being proactive and self-auditing fair housing compliance by partnering with local fair housing centers.
- How school test score data unintentionally preserves segregation and disparities in housing.
- How you individually or collectively with your firm and association can participate in the New Movement to Redress Racial Segregation (click here to stay informed) to take action in your local community.
Lingering aftershocks from redlining and racist covenant restrictions
Earthquakes are often followed by aftershocks. Typically, we have to maintain vigilance during the aftershocks, whether or not we were injured or saw damages by the initial quakes because new or additional injury and damages can occur.
Surprisingly (but not surprisingly), even the quakes or lines man made beginning in the 1930s to keep people of color (and in some instances, immigrants) out of certain communities (aka redlining and racist covenant restrictions) did not just screech to a halt in 1968 with the passing of the Fair Housing Act.
There have been “aftershocks” that are still reverberating today. This Texas community tried to address them but instead created other problems.
What are some of these residual effects of redlining, and more importantly, what are some resources to help counteract and repair the damage?
Check out this conversation with Charles Lee, senior policy adviser of the Office of Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Dr. Robert K. Nelson, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, where they share a four-part strategy for the antiracist real estate pro:
- Reviewing the Mapping Inequality Project to explore redlined communities.
- Lobbying for the Fair Housing Act to be improved to account for present disparities.
- Reviewing Rachel Morello-Frosch’s studies on the current effects of segregation.
- Creating Google Alerts to stay current in your community.
By the way, if your reading list has become an unending laundry list, check out the 17-minute, no fee film version of The Color of Law.