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Did you know that starting with the first unofficial fair housing act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, tensions outside of the U.S. have put fair housing in jeopardy for everyday civilians, even when they’re not directly associated with any of those tensions?
Picking just one of the many, a treacherous historical example is when Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their homes during World War II. Many were not given enough time to sell the real estate they owned for fair market value, nor were they able to return after the war to those homes that had been confiscated or squatted in. Sadly, those who maintained their American citizenship and allegiance lost everything.
Unfortunately, it took approximately 40 years for an apology by then-President Ronald Reagan, along with a small token of reparations, to acknowledge that “no payment can make up for those lost years …. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”
Fast forward to this year, and we are witnessing some of our real estate colleagues and the communities they serve struggle in Florida regarding the new restrictions surrounding Chinese homeownership, which are still being challenged as a breach of fair housing.
Separately, just days ago, in a Chicago suburb, we saw the aftermath of a landlord allegedly screaming at his tenants — people who had placed trust in him for fair housing — about their religion and stabbing a tenant, a child, 26 times to death. Based on reports, that landlord has violated multiple laws but fair housing is the one that real estate pros can lean into the most.
There are more examples both from the annals of history and also from this year, but what is more important is our proactiveness. That is what I call being a Fair Housing Decoder.
Let’s get into the seven roles we should play when global – or any other – events begin to undermine fair housing:
D: Dissed deactivator
Check-in with impacted communities and ask what has rubbed them the wrong way. It may be obvious, but giving others space to vent helps with emotional regulation and psychological safety.
For example, has your realty office made a statement expressing that you unequivocally honor the right to fair housing for every religion, nationality, race, familial status, etc. (listing out every protected class, especially those that may be impacted in your area by global conditions)?
E: Energy booster
Next, inquire about what needs to happen for those impacted to (re)gain the “warm fuzzies” or confidence in the real estate community.
For example, perhaps homebuyer grants (based on Special Purpose Credit Programs, which allow protected classes to be targeted for aid and the like) can be created for those who are underserved or even villainized based on recent global events. Landlord and/or homeseller workshops can be offered to educate and form a supportive community on what fair housing looks like as various global events transpire.
Repetition and refreshers during intense political climates are good for the soul.
C: Community supporter
What can you do to better serve those currently being underserved or even unfairly ostracized in real estate in our community? One of the simplest things for those of us who are social media active is to create social media posts and videos that dispel myths about who does and who doesn’t qualify for fair housing.
O: Options broker
What other options exist to mitigate unfair housing for those most impacted? For example, based on the tragedy in metro Chicago, real estate pros can curate and share lists of resources to help anyone who may need to move because of an aggressive, antagonistic and harassing landlord. Interestingly, some of the DV shelters in your area may be willing to be a refuge if you ask and/or partner with them.
D: Debbie Downer assessor
Does something still grind the gears of the underserved and/or unfairly ostracized in your community? Here’s another opportunity to ask; we can never check in too much in regard to fair housing advocacy.
E: Empathy mirror
Many of us have not lived to be our “big ages” (as Gen Z calls it) without someone mistakenly characterizing our desire for a peaceful existence as something nefarious. Case in point, some people instantly judge real estate agents as sleazy salespeople who will rob Peter and Paul to show off all their “ill-gotten gains” on social media.
Others may go further with their preconceived notions and be downright hostile and dismissive to us (especially as we are cold calling and door knocking). To salvage our reputations, some of us may get curious and share parts of our lives and client testimonials to dismantle those negative tropes.
In addition to helping people file (and understand their right to file) fair housing violations with HUD and local agencies, we can take unfair housing issues to the streets. Social media gives us an amazing platform to make sure everyone, including underserved and/or unfairly ostracized community members, are heard. Just be sure to vet any information.
Here is our opportunity to gently inquire and even show to potential and actual fair housing violators (perhaps through our seller workshops and social media videos), “If the roles were reversed, how would this make you feel?”
Global tensions are not imagined, nor should they be minimized. At the same time, it is important to recognize that a specific neighbor, buyer or tenant may be of a different religion, nationality, color, race, sexual orientation or any other protected class — and not be a threat.