By Graham Wood
Renewing your commitment to fair housing—a recent initiative of the National Association of REALTORS®—is a strong component of expanding fairness in real estate. But it’s not the first step of the journey.
As the nation is learning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Americans must first acknowledge the deep-seated pain associated with the country’s original sin of racism before we can effectively pursue solutions for greater equality. The real estate industry, too, must acknowledge and atone for its historical support of segregation. Then, proposals for creating more inclusive neighborhoods may have more meaningful impact, experts said Tuesday during NAR’s 2020 Leadership Summit, which was held virtually.
In a deeply personal conversation about race during the session “One Together: Building Strong Inclusive Communities,” Michelle Mills Clement, the current and first African American CEO of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, discussed opportunities for real estate pros to influence the national moment we’re in.
Clement lamented that in Chicago, where segregation persists, one affluent white neighborhood on the city’s North Side saw as much home lending activity last year as the entire South Side, where the majority of residents are African American. “You have to tell the truth about how that happened,” Glaude said. “It wasn’t by happenstance. It’s a direct result of policies—decisions made that some people are valued more than others and where they live is valued more.”
Reinforcing the need for candor about the impact of segregation, he continued: “If we’re going to understand our cities—if we’re going to understand the railroad and why it’s better to live on one side than the other—we have to tell the truth.”
Glaude called the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the “last law that radically opened up freedom,” and Clement spoke of a thought-provoking moment when she joined the Chicago association in April 2018—the exact month of the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation. “I realized that I’m joining an organization that once would not have let me join,” she said, referring to pre-fair housing rules that barred people of color from membership. CAR apologized last year for its historically racist policies that persisted for decades.
In 2018, NAR leadership laid bare at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C., the national organization’s immutable past support of discriminatory and racist practices, vowing to deepen its commitment to industry inclusivity and equal opportunity in housing.
In the course of the discussion, Glaude and Clement developed some ideas for how real estate pros can contribute to the housing piece of the movement toward equality.
- Don’t focus on individual blame. “People want to rush to reconciliation instead of telling the truth [about systemic racism] because the truth is hard to bear,” Glaude said. The conversation is difficult to have because many think of racism as an individual intention rather than a societal system, he added. Try to understand “accumulated injustice”—societal wrongs that have been accepted from generation to generation—to frame your thinking around this topic.
- Hard conversations are necessary. You can’t begin to thoughtfully institute measures such as launching a diversity committee until you’ve had honest, difficult conversations with colleagues about why you need one, Clement said. The goal should be to “have boots on the ground and have a connection to neighborhoods in the communities you serve,” she added. “Take a step back and ask yourself what you’re trying to change. Do you want to change what your association looks like? Do you want to change policy? Know what you want and why when you’re sitting on a diversity committee.”
- Commit to your idea of a more just world. Glaude challenged real estate pros to think deeply about what a more just world would look like. Once you know and commit to that vision, you’ll be better at identifying opportunities for action that reflect your ideas, he said. This can empower brokers to reevaluate company culture and encourage agents to join community efforts.
- Express your values through your business. Consider addressing internal policies at your brokerage—could more resources be used toward diversity hiring?—or target opportunities to share your business philosophy with the community and “shift the center of gravity in the spaces we inhabit,” said Glaude.
“There is no other organization that can end residential segregation like your organization,” Glaude told REALTORS®. “We may work in integrated places, but in the intimate spaces, we don’t know each other. We are walking mysteries to one another, and that has everything to do with where we live and how we live.
“You’re in the heart of that—help change it.”