Updated: Dec 10, 2020
On November 16, the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the largest trade association in America, offered an apology. It was a big one, and a century in the making. NAR President Charlie Oppler said, “What Realtors® did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals. It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality. We are sorry.” For nearly 100 years, real estate agents upheld systematically racist policies such as steering, redlining, and written covenants prohibiting non-white people from living in certain communities. For more about how these practices played out in the Boston area, see Liz’s blog on the subject.
The apology does not end housing discrimination, but it is a necessary step in the journey towards fair housing for all. People of color are still living with the effects of redlining; and though this policy was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it will take an active approach to counter the harm done. Along those lines, NAR has added specific language against Hate Speech and discriminatory remarks to their Code of Ethics. A member of the NAR could face disciplinary action if they make hateful or discriminatory remarks to clients, or even on their own social media pages. The amendment just passed this fall, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.
NAR is trying to tackle implicit bias in real estate, as well. Implicit bias is when stereotypes about groups of people affect us unconsciously, thus guiding us to make choices that may cause harm to a certain person or group. NAR created a simulation for Realtors®, called Fairhaven, to help uncover our own implicit biases. Fairhaven presents a series of scenarios, with the goal of completing four successful transactions while encountering potential discrimination. If you’re an agent, take a few minutes to play it through—we both did, and found it illuminating. (If you’re not a member of NAR, try one of the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests; they take less than 10 minutes to complete.
There are ways to counter implicit bias, and we challenge ourselves and our colleagues to actively work to dismantle our implicit biases in the important work we do. In practical terms, this means not making assumptions based on a person’s name, family status, the color of their skin, or any number of other factors. Our job is to listen and to treat each and every client with respect.
We have an opportunity to shape the lives of everyone we work with. Our predecessors were trained and even required to use that power to do harm; now it is up to us to build a fair and just future for all.