It depends on how fair housing is taught, writes broker-owner Teresa Boardman. Unfortunately, most fair housing courses are worse than useless.
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Makes total sense to me that NAR should have fair housing education requirement for its members.
Members will need two hours of training every three years. Real estate agents in Minnesota are required to complete one hour of fair housing training every two-year license period. In addition, new required exhibition housing modules are regularly added to the required CE.
Minnesota has the third highest rate of homeownership in the nation, it also has one of the highest, perhaps even the highest, rates of home ownership disparity between white households and households of color or Hispanic ethnicity.
I won’t give realtors all the credit for the home ownership disparity, but we’ve certainly been a part of it by promoting racial contracts and perpetuating the myth that home values go down when people of color move into a neighborhood.
Last year, the Minneapolis Area Realtors — which once supported racial covenants and denied membership to blacks — issued a public apology for its historic role in perpetuating the Twin Cities home ownership gap.
How much does fair housing affect education?
Fair housing education probably didn’t have much of an effect on fair housing. I believe one of the reasons is the teaching method. Agents become defensive when briefed on racism. Agents must remain open to learning.
Knowing what years the fair housing laws were passed probably won’t help, and neither will understanding the makeup of the “protected classes” in different cities and the state. We can all agree on that fair housing is for everyone and keep it simple.
We know that racism and discrimination are systemic, but we don’t know how big of an impact real estate agents are. There is evidence that real estate agents and lenders were involved in redlining and management. Both are perfect topics for fair housing training.
It would be nice to have some metrics to measure the impact of realtors and then do more after the first round of fair housing training. Requiring training is a great way to acknowledge that there is a problem, but if it’s not done right, 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 say the wrong thing. I don’t think it’s helpful either. The real estate offices of the big real estate companies that sell the most properties are located in neighborhoods that are predominantly white and have higher home prices. At least that’s true in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota.
The offices of the Minneapolis Association of Realtors are located in a wealthier, whiter suburb in the metro area. The state association of realtors is also located in a predominantly white suburb that is 14 miles away from the capitol complex. Both are great locations, work well for both organizations, but can also affect how real estate agents are perceived.
The best resources for addressing fair housing issues
In 22 years in real estate, I have only been exposed to two fair housing courses that were useful. One of these is the Fairhaven simulation, which is available through NAR. The simulation had scenarios that made me think about fair housing and how important it is.
Another course that was required for CE was “History of Diversity in Home Ownership.” 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 useful way. These were not all the ways in which real estate agents can be punished if they break the law.
The most helpful book I have ever read on fair housing is The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America bRichard Rothstein. I have read it three times and will probably read it again.
It should be required reading or listening for anyone 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. Trim and steering are thoroughly covered.
After reading it, I believe in compensating the defendants 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 did benefit financially.
One of the worst classes I ever took was a mandatory CE class in fair housing through a local real estate school taught by someone who didn’t know the subject. The course was a lecture I had heard many times before. It was so bad that I asked for a refund (which I never received).
It depends on how fair housing is taught, and most fair housing courses are worse than useless. The focus is always on what happens to real estate agents who are caught violating fair housing laws.
Courses that are required for CE are often taught in a condescending voice and taught at the pre-college level. It can be hard to find classes that will meet CE requirements and where we can learn.
We have to figure out how to do that be part of the solution. After hours and reading, I’ll openly admit that I know what not to do, but I’m not clear on what I should do, or even what I can do. Not discriminating against some buyers or homeowners doesn’t seem to be enough.