Industry Call for Action: Race & Real Estate [Log-In Required]

Check out the highlights in Chicago Agent, & read our consumer-facing Op-Ed in Chicago Tribune

“Chicago should really take the lead… say let’s be a model for the rest of the world and not be afraid to say when we talk about desegregating the city,  we’re talking about creating a more equitable Chicago for everyone,”  said Lisa Yun Lee, Associate Professor of Public Culture and Museum Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago, in  the  book,  The South Side, by Chicagoan Natalie Moore. We, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® (CAR), will take that challenge.  As the Voice for Real Estate in Chicago, we refuse to be absent from the conversations surrounding the very real issues regarding race and our industry. Lately, we’ve fielded multiple requests to comment on the debate over language like “master bedroom.”  Words hold tremendous power.  Certainly, there is no downside to removing a word from real estate vernacular that carries an uncomfortable and racist undertone.  Harmful language should be minimized and addressed. However, focusing on one term is a distraction from the larger and very real issues around race.  Removing one term won’t change the tide - it’s a band-aid, not an eradication.  Instead, we challenge the real estate industry to go deeper: we all have an obligation to do the work to address racism and unconscious bias. In 2018, with the unanimous support of our Board of Directors and staff, we delivered remarks recognizing and apologizing for the association’s historical role in discriminatory practices in housing by promoting discriminatory  zoning,  neighborhood  classifications  and  racially  restrictive  covenants;  defining  and  allowing  racial  boundaries  in our city;  opposing fair housing  laws;  and  defending  the  rights  of  property  owners  to  discriminate.  Our  past  actions  closed the door to  Chicagoans based on race and created a dual housing market: one for white Chicago and one for Black and minority Chicago.  We have to acknowledge those wrongs, because words are powerful.  Our apology  for our past actions was a start, but our industry  – our whole industry – still has work to do. In 1968, Congress passed the landmark Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination concerning the  sale,  rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and family status – an acknowledgment that discrimination and segregation have permeated every aspect of American life,  but particularly in housing. Still, in 2020,  fair housing remains under attack every day.  Just this week, the White House repealed the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule,  which combats housing discrimination and segregation by requiring municipalities to scrutinize their housing patterns for racial bias, publicly report the results and set goals for reducing segregation  –  meaning  communities receiving federal dollars were required to take steps to actively promote integration in communities.  Now, they’re not. The  president announced the repeal in a  tweet, which reads, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood……Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule.  Enjoy!” Those words are a perfect example of how racism and discrimination flourish. Racism is not just a personal issue. Racism is structural and institutionalized by government policy.  We must actively work to identify and dismantle segregationist and racist patterns in housing.  Abolishing this rule washes the government’s hands of responsibility to deconstruct what they helped build and ignores the systemic racism in housing opportunity that has ensured Chicago remains one of the most segregated cities in the United States. How can you help?  It is critical that you report fair housing violations when they occur. We know these are still happening – we hear from many of youthat this is a constant challenge, but unless you report specific violations when they occur, our hands are tied. Help us hold each other accountable. If we don’t know about it, we can’t stop it from happening.  Our responsibility, as REALTORS® and responsible citizens,  is to ensure that everyone has equal and equitable  opportunities. We also need to take a good, hard look at our industry leadership.  At CAR, we’re proud that our board of directors reflects the diversity in our city.  However,  there is a startling lack of Black managing brokers and a lack of Black representation in brokerage leadership where Blacks aren’t broker-owners. We need to look at why that is – and we need every single one of our members to be part of that conversation and resulting action. Diverse leadership starts at the beginning of a career in real estate.  So,  REALTORS®  -  take a look at your staff and teams. As you’re growing,  are you making an effort to diversify your circle? We grow through others – and it’s our obligation to ensure that we are growing responsibly.  Volunteer to mentor someone who may not look like you.  Hire an assistant or partner who can broaden your circle.  Strive to address diversity – geographic, racial, sexuality, identity, ability, etc. – in your growth and hiring of all kinds. An easy place to start:  training. Through CAR, REALTORS® have access to a wealth of resources and classes, particularly in the areas of fair housing and ethics.  But don’t just rely on us: ask  every  brokerage to mandate unconscious bias training. Unconscious bias is a cancer that is rampant in our society and our industry – training to recognize those biases and actively dismantle and work through them is critical for all of us. Resources are available to help you, both through CAR and the National Association of REALTORS®. If you can’t find a resource, please let us know – we are here to help you get what you need. We’d be remiss if we didn’t address the challenges on a neighborhood level, as well. In Black communities, properties are undervalued and overtaxed – and research has shown this is deliberate  (a great resource on this is the book  Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein).   We must tackle the subjectivity and inequality in our current systems that make private property an inadequate vehicle for building  Black  wealth and equity. Today, the Black homeownership rate remains essentially  the same as it was in 1968, when the Fair Housing  Act was signed into law.  Redlining is still a reality in many of our communities, and rates are oftentimes higher for Black and POC homeowners.  How can we work to ensure that homeownership is not only available, but attainable?  There are solutions: greater access to capital, education on fair housing and reporting violations, and access to alternative lines of credit, but these are solutions that take all of us, working together, to tackle. There are many benefits to owning private property.  But we will never be equal if those benefits and the dream of homeownership aren’t attainable for many in our population. Recently,  we launched “The 77” to address issues on a community level.  With a dedicated representative for each and every one of Chicago’s neighborhoods, The 77 is poised to make a broader impact than the association could have accomplished alone,  tackling two topics that are essential in this climate: fair housing and economic development,  in addition to engaging with local governmental bodies and chambers of commerce, seeking out placemaking opportunities and providing the community with a direct line to the association’s work, leadership and resources.  This is just one way that CAR is working more directly with our neighborhoods, so we can better address each’s needs. Take another look at our president’s tweet.  Those powerful words are evidence that changing one word won’t solve the systemic issues in our industry – there is real work to be done, and we can’t do it by ourselves.  Each and every  REALTOR®  (and each and every  Chicagoan)  has an obligation to address this – in our industry, in our individual  business practices and in our daily lives. We  resolve to be a catalyst for critical conversations around our association’s role in perpetuating racial inequality;  our industry’s present issues of unequal access to financing, fair housing issues and housing opportunity; and moving all of Chicago’s neighborhoods forward, together.  We invite you to join us as we work to be part of the solution.
  • President Maurice Hampton, President-Elect Nykea Pippion McGriff, Treasurer Antje Gehrken, Immediate Past President Tommy Choi, Director Marty Walsh, CEO Michelle Mills Clement & the Chicago Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors