By Kenya Burrell-VanWormer
I’d like to tell you that we no longer need laws to protect home buyers and renters from discrimination, but we’re not there yet. While I hope you and your clients never experience discrimination, know that federal law prohibits denying an individual or group the right to buy or rent a home based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status or disability.
So, how widespread is housing discrimination in the 21st century? Fair housing organizations receive about 25,000 to 30,000 complaints each year, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), a coalition of privately run fair housing groups. Yet, testing suggests there are many more instances of discrimination—the NFHA estimates about 3.7 million annually.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has conducted thousands of tests in recent years. HUD uses housing organizations that send testers out to view for-sale and rental properties as a means of determining whether landlords, lenders, agents, and others in the real estate community treat protected classes differently.
Housing discrimination takes many forms, but here are a few real-world scenarios:
- An owner or landlord falsely tells a client that his property or unit is unavailable because of that client’s religion;
- An agent only shows a client homes in one neighborhood because that area has a high concentration of residents of that client’s race;
- A landlord asks a client for a higher deposit on a rental unit than other tenants because that client has kids;
- A landlord refuses to accommodate a client’s needs as a disabled tenant, such as allowing a service animal or installing grab-bars in bathrooms.
When people think about fair housing violations, they usually conjure up images of a slammed door or a restrictive advertisement. But violations of the Fair Housing Act are not only about a living situation or steering allegations. There are problems in the lending industry, as well. Because the lending process is so complex, it’s difficult to identify discrimination with any consistency.
Members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) adhere to a strict Code of Ethics that holds us to higher professional standards than what state and federal law require. However, you may not know that the Code of Ethics was recently amended to prohibit REALTORS® from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation, in addition to the seven classes protected under federal law.
Violations of fair housing laws are not always obvious or easy to detect. After all, unless victims are somehow able to compare their experience to someone else’s, they likely have no reason to suspect any prejudice ever occurred. Fair housing laws do have teeth, however. So if a consumer believes he or she has been the victim of housing discrimination, he or she can submit a formal complaint with HUD (visit HUD.gov) and any local private housing enforcement agency.
The following HAR multicultural partners shared their thoughts about what fair housing means to them:
“As an immigrant and now citizen, I believe fair housing protects the rights and freedoms of ownership, regardless of race, color, national origin, religions, family status, disability. Houston is becoming the most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country. REALTORS® are now working with many clients coming from all parts of the world. We are obligated to inform consumers about the Fair Housing Act. Clients need to understand and to appreciate their opportunities plus protections of owning, selling or renting a home in the U.S.” – Kelvin H. Tran, Owner/Broker, Matrix Professional Realty
“NAREB’s (the parent organization of the Houston Black Real Estate Association) national and local leaders were instrumental in pushing for and litigating to ensure the full implementation of the Fair Housing Law. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act (April 11, 2018) the Houston Black Real Estate Association will host a series of events and activities on this day and the week recognized as Realtist week April 15 through April 21 (see www.hbreahouston.org). Our efforts will seek to educate and inspire the public about the never-ending struggle for equality, democracy in housing, and NAREB/HBREA role in the landmark effort. We fully understand defacto desegregation and institutional racism remains a pervasive problem throughout the United States. Thus, as we illuminate the accomplishments of the last 50 years, we ask everyone to join in our efforts to increase Black home ownership and improve social and economic conditions for all disenfranchised people. I am excited and grateful that HAR is embracing the multicultural real estate organizations via a concerted effort to bring awareness of the power we harness to spur change when unified.” –Kimberley Barnes-Henson, Broker, Barnes Henson
“Fair housing means all people, regardless of who they are, can build generational wealth and long-term security through homeownership. It can change the economic future of a family not just today but for generations. Homeowners take more pride in their home and neighborhood. Homeownership changes people’s lives.” – Ruby Miranda, Keller Williams Hoiuston Preferred Realty
“To me, fair housing means everyone has the right to own a piece of the American Dream, owning your own home, regardless of ones nationality or ethnicity. It also allows for us to live wherever we chose without discrimination.” – Dorothy Yee, REALTOR®, RE/MAX Fine Properties“
“The Women’s Council of REALTORS® was founded 80 years ago. Back then, women were drawn into real estate to fill gaps left by men drafted into military service. You remember Rosie the Riveter, but do you remember Rosie the Real Estate Agent? Women’s Council was founded, in part, because some of the local boards barred membership for women even as late as 1960. Early women leaders in the real estate industry began establishing local Councils around the U.S. where women REALTORS® could network with colleagues, share leads, business tips and enjoy the camaraderie and support of a women’s business network.
“Today, women represent the majority (62%) of NAR members. Economic and social barriers for women in this industry have largely been erased, but there is still a disproportionate number of business women in key leadership positions in both the private and association sector. In the 110-year history of NAR’s national presidents, only seven have been women and top real estate firms have few key leadership positions filled by women.
“Women’s Council has become the pre-eminent business leadership affiliate of NAR and the 12th largest women’s professional association in the U.S. This is where busy REALTORS® take on leadership roles and get practical experience and build skills in consensus-building, running a meeting or an event, public speaking, team-building and motivating colleagues. In 2017, 145 local or state REALTOR® association presidents held membership in Women’s Council. Many go on to assume local government positions and fill key corporate positions. Leadership in Women’s Council is often a stepping stone into leadership roles within the larger REALTOR® organization.” – Jo Ann Stevens, 2018 National President, Women’s Council of REALTORS®