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The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo began on Nov. 2 and is running through the 18th. On Nov. 10, NAR held its Regulatory Issues Forum, hosting a session, “The Role of Homeownership in Advancing Racial Equality and Ending Racial Disparities,” which looked at the history of housing discrimination in the U.S., as well as the racial wealth gap, to determine how REALTORS® can combat discriminatory behavior and systemic racism in order to provide equal housing opportunities for all.

Vince Malta, president of NAR, kicked off the session with the following statement:

“REALTORS® must be active participants in promoting equality, inclusion and acceptance. Housing discrimination and segregation have devastating impacts on families in terms of the racial homeownership gap, the racial wealth gap, and disparities in education, healthcare and so much more. We must educate our members and the public about the past. We must be clear-eyed about the problems that exist in the present. We must have honest and frank discussions about the disparities that exist because we can’t solve problems that we don’t see and don’t measure.

“Change starts with us. Fair Housing is the law, and to REALTORS® is the fundamentally right thing to do. It is an absolute necessity if we are to live up to our Code of Ethics and safeguard real property rights for every American. We recognize that it’s not enough to stop discriminatory behavior. We must take action to remedy years’ worth of inequality.”

Malta led the discussion—with panelists Mehrsa Baradaran, professor of Law at UC Irvine and author of “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” as well as Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker—on how to close the racial wealth gap to advance racial equality.

To start, Baradaran said one must fully understand what the racial wealth gap really means—it impacts more than just affordability.

“The wealth gap foretells your exposure to violence, whether you have clean water and parks, whether your schools are underfunded,” she said. “It’s about housing and where you live, and the policies and outcomes that relate to housing, which can segregate. It’s about systemic racism.”

Baradaran discussed the past, referencing a time when people of several religions, ethnicities and races were discriminated against in the housing and lending space.

“We’ve all heard about the Jewish-Americans, the Irish-Americans, etc. It’s important to understand what happened and how things became structural. Those practices were, for the most part, temporary,” she said, emphasizing that looking at these populations, and the solutions implemented, is key to breaking down obstacles for the Black community as well.

“Look at the areas that were left out the first time and provide solutions within those areas: down payment assistance, housing grants, etc. It’s about the resources.”

Gorman agreed, stating that policies in recent years to combat discrimination in housing have been much too broad.

“The challenges are very narrow, and so what we do about it has to be similarly narrow in order to deal with it,” said Gorman. “Imprecision isn’t helping us get anywhere.”

Both Gorman and Baradaran explained the clear challenge that lies ahead: it can be uncomfortable to admit these issues still exist, especially in the political space.

“It’s a difficult political move, but when looking at practicality, it’s not difficult,” said Baradaran.

“There’s a political challenge and discomfort with being more precise,” added Gorman.

The best way to look at the obstacles standing in the way of housing equality? Baradaran said one must conceive it as a “damages” scenario.

“We’ve promised equal opportunity and we’ve breached that promise,” said Baradaran. “It’s not about someone losing something so someone else can gain. It’s about equality.”

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior online editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to ldominguez@rismedia.com.

Stay tuned to RISMedia for continuing coverage of NAR’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo.

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