April is fair housing month, reminding us that housing isn’t just an opportunity for us all to make money. Housing fills a basic human need for shelter. This past year of isolation at home has forced many of us to realize how fortunate we are to have shelter.
Discrimination in housing isn’t just a Realtor issue. It is societal and a symptom of systemic racism. The U.S. was built on a system of racism against Black people so extreme that it permeates every aspect of American life, including housing.
Minnesota is ground zero for racism with some of the largest disparities in housing, employment, medical care and education in the U.S. Racism is a public health crisis. Watch the documentary Jim Crow of the North, and learn how we got to where we are today.
Realtors have become the face of fair housing. We don’t control every aspect of homeownership or rental, but there is a lot we can do to promote and protect fair housing. We can educate ourselves about fair housing and related issues, and we can pass some of that education along to every client we work with. There’s always more to learn.
The homebuying and selling process is filled with opportunities to educate our clients and our peers. Maybe our clients are telling us they want to sell their house to a family who will raise children in it or to someone who attends services at the church on the next block.
That’s our opportunity to talk about what to look for in an offer and explain why it would be illegal for us to help them sell their house to a certain kind of person, as well as how to evaluate the terms of an offer.
Some of us are asking our homeseller clients to include a statement in the multiple listing service (MLS) that they will not accept letters from buyers. Those letters may expose the sellers to personal information about the buyers that could be used to choose an offer based on who the buyer is rather than what they are offering.
We can help homebuyers create a winning offer. There are all sorts of ways an offer can stand out. If the buyers insist on including a letter to the sellers, and the sellers will accept it, we can help them craft a letter that will stand out — without including any personal information.
Realtors need to advocate for fair housing and for the overhaul of the property taxation, school funding and zoning laws. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a large influential lobby group that can make a difference.
Last year, I volunteered some of my time for the Mapping Prejudice project. I read residential property deeds in my county and flagged the deeds with that contained racially restrictive covenants. It brought history to life for me, and I learned so much about our neighborhoods and their histories. I found out about the need for volunteers through my association. (SPAAR)
Knowing which areas were racially restricted is something that I talk about with my clients and neighbors. It is one way I educated myself so that I can have a conversation with others about fair housing.
I wrote down some of the language in the deeds and a list of neighborhoods where there were restrictions against selling real estate to people of color. Additionally, I have written about the project on a couple of websites, including Inman News.
NAR has done a wonderful job putting together resources for fair housing month. (The resources can be found here.) It is a virtual library with links to books, data, podcasts, videos and a fair housing month tool kit. There is also a poster about fair housing that reminds us to stop and make sure we are providing equal services to all.
If you haven’t gone through NAR’s Fairhaven fair housing simulation, you should. Instead of reciting fair housing laws, the simulation goes through situations where we make choices and where people experience discrimination because of those choices. We can learn more about how our actions and those of our clients affect others.
If you haven’t read or listened to the book The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, you should. The book takes a deep dive into the history of housing discrimination and how we got to where we are today. Rothstein examines the role of Realtors, the government, builders and society as a whole in housing discrimination.
The Saint Paul Area Association of Realtors started a book club to discuss the book, which is an idea that I hope other associations and real estate offices will borrow. A discussion of The Color of Law could also be integrated into a conference.
Last summer, I also read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. The book made me aware of my own racist ideas and attitudes. If we can’t talk about racism, we can’t get rid of it.
Remember that when people are discriminated against in housing or anything else they may not even know they have been discriminated against. Homebuyers don’t get to see the other offers, and neither do buyers agents. That is why it is up to each one of us to be vigilant and to speak up when we see something that doesn’t look fair.
There are still enough days left in fair housing month to put together your plan for how you are going to educate yourself and your clients.