Every year, in February, we celebrate Black History Month and the transformative contributions Black Americans have made to this country. These achievements are even more remarkable in light of how centuries of racial oppression have hardwired racial bias into many facets of American life. Housing is no different. Although discrimination in housing is now illegal, structural and implicit bias continue to adversely affect Black Americans in their ability to achieve the American Dream of homeownership.
It is well-documented how the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) worked in tandem with federal, state and local governments to prevent Black Americans from buying homes in neighborhoods of their choice, thereby shutting them out of opportunities to build the generational wealth that government programs helped White Americans accrue. NAR and its predecessor organization codified the real estate industry’s opposition to integration in its 1924 Code of Ethics, supported redlining and racially-restrictive covenants, and opposed the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Over the decades, NAR has taken steps to rectify these harmful practices. Today, NAR strongly supports the Fair Housing Act and has worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private partners to promote equal access to homeownership. NAR revised its Code of Ethics to require equal professional service to all, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. Just last year, NAR’s board of directors voted to prohibit REALTORS® from making hateful speech on those same bases; 2020 was also the year NAR officially apologized for its historic actions, which denied homeownership to qualified Black Americans.
We have made progress, but 2020 exposed deep fault lines in America’s communities. It is apparent that, for the health of this country, more needs to be done than stopping present-day discrimination. The hard work of creating equal opportunity requires REALTORS® to continue to engage with the historic practices of the industry, and to consider how to remedy these wrongs.
Late in 2019, NAR unveiled its Fair Housing Action Plan, referred to as “ACT!” for its emphasis on Accountability, Culture Change and Training. To enhance accountability for fair housing violations, NAR is developing a self-testing program for brokerages to proactively uncover and address fair housing problems. NAR is also developing recommendations for states to strengthen fair housing education and enforcement in licensure laws.
NAR is also introducing innovative approaches to fair housing training. In November, NAR unveiled Fairhaven, an online simulation training that puts REALTORS® in a fictional town where they must confront bias and discrimination while working against the clock to close four deals. The training provides customized feedback that learners can apply to daily business interactions. In this innovative approach, Fairhaven puts learners in the role of a client experiencing discrimination in a real estate transaction. NAR also rolled out an implicit bias training video in the summer of 2020, which will be followed in 2021 with a three-hour classroom course on interrupting implicit bias in real estate.
NAR is engaged in culture change by highlighting REALTOR® fair housing champions who have incorporated inclusivity into their business models. It is also developing new resources for REALTORS® to engage with clients on the charged topic of schools.
What’s next? NAR is finding ways to create and promote equal access to home purchase and financing. NAR is exploring a variety of programs, such as targeted downpayment assistance for the descendants of families adversely affected by redlining and changing mortgage underwriting to take into account information that can more accurately capture a homebuyer’s ability to afford a home. REALTORS® are committed to serving all families who want to achieve the American Dream of homeownership.
Sehar Siddiqi is NAR’s director of Fair Housing Policy and Valuation. For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor.