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It makes total sense to me that NAR should make fair housing education a requirement for its members.
Members will need two hours of training every three years. Minnesota real estate agents are required to take one hour of fair housing training every two-year licensing period. In addition, new required fair housing modules are periodically added to our required CE.
Minnesota has the third highest homeownership rate in the country, it also has one of the highest, maybe even the highest, disparities in homeownership rates between white households and households of color or Hispanic ethnicity.
I won’t give Realtors all of the credit for homeownership disparities, but we have definitely been a part of it by supporting racial covenants and perpetuating the myth that home values decline when people of color move into the neighborhood.
Last year the Minneapolis Area Realtors — which once supported racial covenants and denied membership to Blacks — issued a public apology for its historical role in perpetuating the homeownership gap in the Twin Cities.
How much does fair housing education do to impact fair housing?
Fair housing education probably hasn’t had much of an impact on fair housing. I believe that part of the reason for this is the way it is being taught. Agents become defensive as they are lectured about racism. Agents need to remain open-minded so they can learn.
Knowing which years fair housing laws were passed probably isn’t helping and neither is understanding the make-up of “protected classes” in various cities and in the state. Let’s all agree that fair housing is for everyone and keep it simple.
We know that racism and discrimination are systemic, but we don’t know how much of an impact real estate agents have. There is proof that real estate agents and lenders have participated in redlining and steering. Both are the perfect topics for fair housing training.
It would be nice to have some metrics to measure the impact real estate agents have and then take some more measurements after the first round of fair housing training. Requiring the training is a great way to acknowledge that there is a problem, but if it isn’t done correctly, it won’t have a positive impact.
Where businesses are based makes a difference
Real estate agents are taught to be very afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. I don’t think that is helpful either. Real estate offices of the large real estate companies that sell the most real estate are located in the neighborhoods that are mostly white and where home prices are higher. At least that is true in the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota.
The Minneapolis Association of Realtors offices are located in a wealthier, whiter suburb within the metro area. The state Association of Realtors is also located in a mostly white suburb that is 23 miles away from the capitol complex. They are both great locations, they work well for both organizations, but they may also be influencing how Realtors are perceived.
The best resources for tackling fair housing issues
In my 22 years in real estate, I have only been exposed to two fair housing courses that were helpful. One is the Fairhaven simulation that is available through NAR. The simulation had scenarios that forced me to think about fair housing and how important it is.
The other course, which was required for CE, was “The History of Diversity in Homeownership” with Julia Lashay. She helped us all understand our own biases and role in housing discrimination.
She is able to present the facts in a way that helped us understand our own biases in a constructive and helpful way. It wasn’t about all the ways Realtors can be punished if they break the law.
The most helpful book I have ever read about fair housing, is The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. I have read it three times and will probably read it again.
It should be required reading or listening for everyone in the real estate industry. It is about more than racism it gives us a clear picture of where racism, government, politics and capitalism intersect. Redlining and steering are covered thoroughly.
After reading it I believe in reparations for the descendants of people who faced housing discrimination, starting with the Anishinaabe people who once lived where my house is now. No, I didn’t take anyone’s land but I have benefitted from it financially.
One of the worst classes I ever took was a required fair housing CE class through a local real estate school taught by someone who did not know the subject matter. The course was a lecture that I have heard many times before. It was so bad that I requested a refund (which I never got).
How fair housing is taught matters and most fair housing courses are worse than useless. The emphasis is always on what happens to Realtors who get caught violating fair housing laws.
Courses that are required for CE are often taught in a condescending voice and are taught at a pre-high school level. It can be hard to find classes that will fulfill CE requirements and where we can learn.
We need to figure out how to be part of the solution. I’ll openly admit after classes and reading I know what not to do, but I am not clear about what I should be doing or even what I can do. It doesn’t seem like not discriminating against some homebuyers or homeowners is enough.