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This month’s National Association of REALTORS® Power Broker Roundtable discusses fair housing. 

Moderator

Jim Imhoff, Chairman, First Weber Real Estate, Madison, Wis., Liaison for Large Firm & Industry Relations

Panelists

Christina Pappas, District Sales Manager, The Keyes Company, Miami, Fla. 

 

Joan Docktor, President, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®, Philadelphia, Pa. 

 

Michael Zagaris, CEO, PMZ Real Estate, Modesto, Calif. 

 

Lacey Conway, President, Latter & Blum Inc., New Orleans, La. 

 

Bill Plattos, Executive VP, First Team Real Estate, Irvine, Calif.

Jim Imhoff: April is Fair Housing Month, and REALTORS® across the country are reaffirming their commitment to the Fair Housing Act, which was signed into law as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the law was designed to protect Americans from discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of a home. NAR highlighted fair housing as part of our last national convention and continues to stand with brokerages and professional associations everywhere in promoting and maintaining the goal of equal opportunity in our industry. All this comes at a time when diversity and inclusion dominate the national conversation—so it seems like a good time to do a little spot check on where we think we stand regarding fair housing. Christina, welcome back to the Roundtable. 

Christina Pappas: Thanks, Jim. Diversity is certainly a priority in Miami, where the population reflects that, and I think it’s amazing just how far we have come, and crazy how much further we need to go. I say that because we’ve made so much progress in overcoming cultural discrimination, but we know that financing is another issue, especially among the lowest earners.

Joan Docktor: I agree. Agents want to sell houses. They don’t care about the ethnicity or race of the buyer. It’s only a problem if the buyers can’t make a down payment or haven’t established a credit rating.

Mike Zagaris: That’s certainly true in our Central Valley in California, where agri-business is primary. In my view, affordability has replaced discrimination as the issue we need to deal with, because low-wage farm workers, no matter how hard-working, are too often priced out of the market. 

JI: So how do we deal with that?

CP: We host many home-buying workshops focused on saving and building credit, for one, and we partner with like-minded housing coalitions committed to finding solutions. 

Lacey Conway: In New Orleans, we’ve determined that there’s a critical need for over 30,000 affordable housing units. Our goal is to build and renovate some 1,500 affordable units a year for the next five years. It’s an ambitious plan, but we’re working with housing and business alliances, and the mayor’s office. We intend to get this done.

JD: We also recognize that people feel most comfortable speaking in their native language. Our website lists agents who speak various languages and who are available to work with diverse buyers locally and abroad. 

Bill Plattos: That’s a practical solution even when financing is not an issue. Irvine is a melting pot with a growing Asian population, and we acknowledge that with a staff of bilingual agents who understand Asian values and customs. They work successfully with Asian buyers, some local but many abroad, and it’s become a hallmark of who we are.

JI: Your sales staff reflects the need in your market.

BP: Exactly.

JI: But what I’m hearing, too, is that affordability is in many cases more of an issue than fair housing. 

MZ: Yes, and I think that’s especially true where diversity is the standard in our communities. As Joan indicated, we are color-blind in our mission to sell houses, but it’s tougher in today’s world not just to create affordable housing, but to overcome financing hurdles.

CP: Lower underwriting standards are not the answer. 

MZ: No. We tried that years ago, and it backfired on several levels. Consumer counseling is helpful, as has been said, and working with other agencies to find or create affordable housing. That’s difficult in a state where homelessness and affordability have become a major crisis.

LC: We recognize this is just the beginning—that the greatest challenges are securing long-term capital development and addressing that credit gap we’ve talked about. There’s no question that education on diversity and equal opportunity must be baked into our education offerings—and we must multiply our efforts to develop solutions for a growing population that sees prices increase while their wages do not keep pace.

BP: In the end, though, the only color line we see should be green, and I think, as an industry, we’ve made significant strides to ensure that.

JI: Diversity in our workforce; education and counseling; working to create affordability—those are the challenges, and www.nar.realtor is a good place to find presentations and smart growth programs to help us in all those efforts.

LC: There’s another thing: Agents choose the company they want to work with. They gravitate to companies where they feel supported and respected and where we strive to make ourselves better. If we were not diverse and always focused on inclusion, I don’t think any of us would be who we are today.

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