Bryan Greene, vice president, Policy Advocacy at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), represents NAR in Washington on all regulatory and legislative matters related to fair housing.
Here, Greene offers insight into what it means to be an RISMedia Real Estate Newsmaker—individuals recognized for their positive contributions to the real estate industry—along with NAR’s push to combat discrimination and implicit bias promoting increased accountability, culture change and training.
You were named in the Crusader category for our 2021 Newsmakers for your work in aiding REALTORS® to combat discrimination and implicit bias in the industry. What does an accolade like that mean to you?
Bryan Greene: It definitely indicates that the issue we’re talking about—in this case, housing discrimination—is of great relevance to people in the housing industry and the public.
The recognition tells me that we have a general population, including housing industry insiders, eager to confront this unfinished business of housing discrimination and housing segregation.
Why the push last year to promote increased accountability, culture change, and training on implicit bias and discrimination in the industry?
BG: NAR, in recent years, has been placing more emphasis on addressing housing discrimination. I was hired as NAR’s first fair housing director, and I’ve spent my career addressing these issues.
When I first joined NAR, I had my notions of those efforts we could increase to ensure we’re providing equal professional services to all. This was pushed along by some news stories about housing discrimination, most notably Newsday’s story about housing discrimination on Long Island, New York. In some ways, it just focused our thinking. To read that story underscored that we needed to tackle discrimination from several angles.
Accountability, culture change and training encompass a comprehensive approach to tackling almost any problem like this. The training is essential. Culture change helps motivate people to do the right thing, and accountability provides a backstop and some consequence if they don’t.
So all those things working together, we recognize as critical to a serious approach to an ongoing problem of housing discrimination.
How has implicit bias and discrimination affected the real estate industry and how REALTORS® do business?
BG: Housing discrimination and implicit bias are, in some ways, the remnants of a much more vicious system of discrimination and segregation that federal laws were intended to address.
We’re fortunate that we live in a time when we don’t have legal segregation or the federal government actively advocating for segregation and discrimination against certain groups. Still, we know that we had official policies in our industry and government which discriminated against people and created segregation in our communities.
That doesn’t go away overnight just because you pass a law. In fact, the passage of a law suggests you’re going to have to use it sometimes. We’re trying to acknowledge that these problems have not gone away and take proactive steps to self-correct within the industry.
Tell us more about the impetus of the ACT! initiative along with NAR’s implicit bias and fair housing training.
BG: ACT is an acronym for accountability, culture change and training, and it acknowledges that we need to implement efforts on all three fronts to effectively address the discrimination we still see in the housing market.
When it comes to accountability, we need to make sure that we have strong real estate licensing laws that make fair housing education a licensure requirement and presents consequences for licensees who engage in discrimination.
Culture change recognizes that it’s been 53 years since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, and if we still have discrimination, it means the message hasn’t sunk in for everybody. We need to recognize and confront that squarely and do what we can to model the best practices for all and celebrate those who are doing it right.
Our training appreciates that to follow the law, you need to know the law and know it well, but we also believe that you need to identify the best mechanisms for such training to be effective. That’s why we created innovative training that doesn’t just involve some classroom instruction and learning tools where you apply the knowledge you gain.
Our Fairhaven interactive training is a simulation where you navigate different scenarios and apply your fair housing knowledge to each of them.
This implicit bias training acknowledges that we all have bias, and we can address our bias best if we acknowledge it and insist that it does not play a role in any housing transactions.
What has been the reception of these resources among REALTORS®?
BG: There’s been a very high demand for it, and I think that tells you something.
I think that tells you that we have hit upon a new type of training that makes people want to learn more about fair housing. I think it suggests that people believe that this can be effective in helping them provide the equal professional service that they all strive to deliver.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Black homeownership?
BG: When you consider black homeownership, in particular, we’ve seen gains in that rate before, but it has reverted now to about the same homeownership rate that we saw in 1968 when housing discrimination was not yet prohibited.
I think it also tells us that the homeownership gap is not attributable solely to present-day discrimination. Instead, it reflects a century of housing policies that have denied people of color the same housing opportunities as others.
That’s another huge challenge for us to find ways to ensure that we eliminate any unnecessary barriers to homeownership and recognize the strong potential homeowners who are out there.
What changes have been made to improve this, and where can REALTORS® play a part in moving the needle forward?
BG: Many REALTORS® have taken the extra step to educate themselves on the history of the housing industry and the history of their communities. That is critically important to understanding where we are today.
I think many real estate professionals do a better job today on fair housing because they have a better awareness of our history both as a profession and as a country when it comes to fair housing.
Jordan Grice is RISMedia’s associate online editor. Email him your real estate news ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.