REALTOR® Sandra A. Butler has watched the national discourse on race in recent months spark positive discussions among her peers about the role they can play in protecting consumers from fair housing violations.
“With everything that has happened in this country, it seems like it’s taken a totally different focus since George Floyd was killed,” Butler says, referencing Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. “It’s more apparent and more urgent since all of the racial unrest happened this year.
“The fair housing law has been in existence for 52 years, but we’re still struggling with it. Agents are still struggling,” she adds.
Indeed, decades after passage of the historic 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was meant to ensure equal housing opportunities, the real estate industry still faces challenges.
A three-year study of discrimination in real estate by New York Newsday published in late 2019 found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of potential minority homebuyers on Long Island—19 percent of the time against Asians, 39 percent of the time against Hispanics, and 49 percent of the time against blacks. In some cases, agents denied equal professional service by refusing to provide listings or home tours to minority testers unless they met financial qualifications that weren’t required of white testers. In others, agents steered testers toward neighborhoods matching the tester’s race or national origin, warning them away from “mixed” neighborhoods.
Soon after publication of the investigation, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) unveiled the ACT! plan, which helps ensure that REALTORS® comply with fair housing laws and embrace inclusive business practices. Specifically, the ACT! initiative emphasizes accountability, culture change and training to make certain that America’s 1.4 million REALTORS® are ensuring that all clients have equal access to the home of their choice in the neighborhood of their choice.
In the latest addition to the ACT! initiative, NAR is rolling out an online interactive simulation training in which agents will confront discrimination in real estate transactions from the point of view of both agent and client.
NAR has teamed up with the EY Learning Lab, which previously developed NAR’s Commitment to Excellence (C2EX) training, in developing the training simulation program for its members.
In the training, agents sell homes in the fictional town of Fairhaven, confronting various scenarios in which discrimination gets in the way. Agents make choices about how to handle each scenario, advancing through the simulation based on their answers.
In an innovative approach, the course also puts agents in the role of a client experiencing discrimination. The client point-of-view scenarios are paired with powerful testimonials, illustrating the impact of housing discrimination in real people’s lives.
Organizers believe this approach has the potential to change someone’s worldview.
“We have a duty to try to be more proactive,” Butler says of the efforts coming out of NAR.
In addition to the simulation training, NAR is also working with the experts at the Perception Institute to develop an in-depth, interactive classroom training focused on preventing implicit bias in real estate transactions. NAR and Perception have already unveiled a 50-minute video aimed at helping members avoid implicit bias in their daily business interactions. NAR has also launched a new consumer advertising campaign that reaffirms its commitment to fair housing. That ad campaign is running in major publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as well as on digital sites like Apple TV and Spotify.
“It gives me hope that we’re at least trying to address the issue,” says Butler. “This is a starting point. We have to continue this process.”