OpEd on Race & Real Estate


“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 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. 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. 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  Just this week, the White House repealed the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH),  which combats  housing discrimination and segregation by requiring  municipalities  to scrutinize their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, rather than simply discourage discrimination.  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. 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. 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 our almost 16,000 members that 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. 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  Chicagoan has an obligation to address this – in our industry, in our individual  business practices and in our daily lives.  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