Guide to Developing Local Fair Housing Partnerships
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|Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “people hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they do not know each other. They do not know each other because they … are separated from each other.”|
It is impossible to put a price tag on the damage housing discrimination does to the individual, the neighborhood, the city and the nation. The segregation of African Americans, Latinos and Asians is immediately apparent in every major city. This, along with segregation of people with disabilities, families with children or different religious groups, which is often less apparent, seriously impacts our nation and our ability to provide equal housing opportunities.
Housing remains a quality of life issue and the right to choose where we live is as important as the right to equal education, employment opportunity and the right to vote. Fair Housing historically has been the last civil right to be recognized and the most difficult to secure. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, fair housing was not included and protection from housing discrimination remained a dream. It took the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the sight of smoke rising from the neighborhoods bordering on the Capitol, to end a filibuster on the Senate floor and bring about the enactment of the Fair Housing Law in 1968.
Fair housing continues to be one of the most challenging problems facing the nation and it cannot be separated from the larger issues of justice and opportunity. President Clinton in announcing his new Race Initiative challenged Americans to realize that the “divide of race has been America’s constant curse”, and that “the struggle to overcome it has been a defining part of our history.” The President has called for “One America” where people are able to live and work together.
For over 20 years, REALTORS® have actively pursued the achievement of fair housing through a Voluntary Affirmative Marketing Agreement (VAMA) with HUD. The VAMA helped to elevate the importance of fair housing across the nation and resulted in REALTORS® leading the housing industry in its commitment to fair housing.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) decided after 20 years that a new approach was needed to build upon the VAMA’s success. REALTORS® no longer needed an agreement to follow the law and to live up to the principles of fair housing. The new HUD/NAR Fair Housing Partnership builds upon the past while looking to the future.
The HUD/NAR Fair Housing Partnership also affirms the President’s vision of Americans working together to stamp out housing discrimination and finally end the separation, isolation, and mistrust which it creates.
The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said “that while laws can remove barriers they cannot change peoples hearts; only building bridges of understanding and tolerance can do that”.
The actions proposed in this Partnership Guide represent an important step in building a bridge to ensure One America. The freedom and dignity of choosing where we live is a choice every American must have.
The 1960s saw an end to legal segregation. People of all racial and ethnic groups are able to attend the same schools, drink from the same water fountains, and live in the same neighborhoods. However, the reality is that in many communities de facto racial segregation still exists. This is especially so in places where people live and work.
Any review of America’s metropolitan areas shows that African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and other minorities tend to live outside predominantly white communities. The situation often reflects decisions made by individuals belonging to specific racial groups to live in non-racially-mixed communities. It can also reflect continuing discrimination in the nation’s housing markets.
If current demographic trends continue, the racial and ethnic mix of America is going to become even more diverse. The challenge ahead is to ensure that neighborhoods and communities reflect these trends, and that all people regardless of race or color, national orgin, gender, with our without disability and regardless of familial status, have freedom to choose the home and neighborhood of their choice. Fair Housing activities, whether through enforcement, education, voluntary programs or a combination of these, respond to a dream unrealized and the vision of a housing market free from discrimination.
HUD and NAR entered into their first Voluntary Affirmative Agreement in 1975, and after several revisions and renewals, the VAMA expired in December of 1996. The VAMA sought to encourage individual real estate firms to take appropriate steps to ensure that their agents followed the fair housing law. The VAMA also encouraged REALTORS® and real estate firms to support the “spirit of the fair housing law” through a variety of equal housing opportunity programs including outreach, advertising, equal employment practices, safeguards against racial steering and other steps, that helped housing to be marketed on an equal opportunity basis.
As successful and well intended as the VAMA was, it often placed process ahead of results and often worked against its objective of affirmatively furthering fair housing. The VAMA required endless reports and records on the status of member REALTOR® firms to a degree that left many important fair housing issues unaddressed.
The new HUD/NAR Fair Housing Partnership is results oriented and gives far less attention to process. The new Partnership focuses on the identification and eradication of housing discrimination in our communities. Because housing discrimination issues and priorities differ from community to community, the new national partnership is intentionally flexible and fluid. The HUD/NAR Partnership recognizes that fair housing is a collaborative endeavor requiring shared involvement by partners in activities such as training, self-testing, public education, affirmative marketing and the promotion of housing choice and opportunities across racial and ethnic lines.
The HUD/NAR Fair Housing Partnership is founded on the principle of providing support for and focusing attention on the implementation of local community initiatives. At the national level, HUD and NAR will regularly meet to identify national issues and concerns, develop joint strategies and actions to address housing discrimination, and review successes. In this ongoing fluid and flexible arrangement, the partnership’s determinations and actions on fair housing will likely change from year to year.
Because of the varying issues and differing circumstances in local communities, no specific model for a local partnership was developed by HUD and NAR. NAR, local associations and HUD field offices are encouraged to develop local fair housing partnerships based on the following principles of the national partnership:
Sharing responsibility for the achievement of fair housing,
Identifying fair housing issues and concerns,
Developing measurable strategies and actions to address identified issues and concerns,
Evaluating the success of actions taken, and
Determining future strategies and actions based on that evaluation.
This Fair Housing Partnership Guide, while based on the national partnership principles, offers alternative suggestions for developing and implementing partnerships. The Guide also provides helpful advice to those parties interested in ratifying or participating in an existing partnership.
WHY A PARTNERSHIP
Developing a Local Fair Housing Partnership
Step 1 Preparing for Partnership
Step 2 Initiating Partnership and
Step 3 Reaching An Agreement
Step 4 Identifying Issues, Planning Actions and Evaluating Success
|Using the REALTOR® Fair Housing Declaration|
The new Fair Housing Partnership provides REALTORS® with a great deal of flexibility in developing fair housing practices. The ability to address fair housing in a manner that best fits a real estate firm’s business environment and style provides exciting opportunity, but raises many questions about the best way to take advantage of the opportunity. REALTORS® are encouraged to use the Fair Housing Declaration adopted by the National Partners to promote fair housing to the public and within their individual firms.
REALTORS® are not asked to sign a document with HUD to demonstrate a commitment to fair housing. That commitment is part of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, real estate license requirements and the laws of the land. Because there is no document to sign, there is no list or form outlining what every REALTOR® should do. Instead, NAR and HUD developed a declaration of general fair housing principles. This Fair Housing Declaration is available to any REALTOR® to use to promote fair housing to the public and within the firm. The declaration contains the following principles:
Provide equal professional service without regard to the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin of any prospective client, customer, or of the residents of any community.
This is required by law and training is available from NAR. The equal service model calls for the use of systematic procedures, using objective information, letting the customer set the limits, and offering a variety of choices. This commitment is included in the declaration as a basic principle of fair housing.
Keep informed about fair housing law and practices, improving my clients' and customers' opportunities and my business.
Fair housing education is an ongoing process. A basic fair housing course is a prerequisite, but must be supplemented because the law and community concerns change over time. Updates may be obtained from many sources including newsletters, classes, newspaper articles, discussions with community fair housing leaders, and office fair housing meetings. NAR’s fair housing course - Fair Housing - Opening Doors to Equal Opportunity contains several modules - from an introduction to fair housing to one tailored for brokers.
Develop advertising that indicates that everyone is welcome and no one is excluded; expanding my client's and customer's opportunities to see, buy, or lease property.
The law prohibits discriminatory advertising. You can take this one step further by using inclusive advertising that indicates everyone is welcome. For example, you may not use human models of only one race in a series of ads without risking a violation. Many advertisers have responded by not using human models at all. If you consciously use human models of multiple races in integrated settings you are indicating that everyone is welcome.
Inform my clients and customers about their rights and responsibilities under the fair housing laws by providing brochures and other information.
Letting clients and customers know about their fair housing rights and responsibilities is an important step towards ending discrimination in the housing market. Informed customers can better recognize discrimination and address it. The information also reduces the likelihood that you will be asked to discriminate or face a discriminatory decision by a client or customer.
Document my efforts to provide professional service, which will assist me in becoming a more responsive and successful REALTOR®.
Documentation is important not only for risk management, but also to assist you in learning where you can improve. Documentation also provides you with tools to help you solicit repeat business and gives you invaluable clues into market trends.
Refuse to tolerate noncompliance.
Noncompliance with fair housing laws impacts your ability to do business. Find ways to address those who appear to be violating the law and help them understand the importance of fair housing to your business - and theirs. If discrimination continues, you cannot in any way be associated with it. As a last resort, make sure any customers or clients who have been victim to the discrimination know how to file a complaint alleging discrimination. Remember, the law protects you too, and you may file complaints on your own behalf. Use the Code of Ethics to educate fellow REALTORS® as well.
Learn about those who are different from me, and celebrate those differences.
We live in an increasingly diverse nation. By the year 2010, nearly 1/3 of our nation’s population will be minority. We are not a melting pot and there are real differences in our cultures - not only based on race and ethnicity. It is important to learn about the differences between people and celebrate how those differences contribute to our society.
Take a positive approach to fair housing practices and aspire to follow the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
Treat fair housing in a positive light - fairness and equal opportunity are key elements of a real estate market where there are no barriers to the ownership, use or transfer of real estate. Discrimination is an impediment; fair housing is the positive answer to discrimination. The spirit of the law is to provide for fair housing which means a free and equal choice based on complete information on the market. That is our business and we should be about the spirit of fair and open housing markets, not just following the letter of the law.
Develop and implement fair housing practices for my firm to carry out the spirit of this declaration.
A commitment to principles cannot be complete unless we have procedures in place and in use to address how those principles are to be implemented. Nothing substitutes for clear procedures outlining how we do business. These procedures can and should be tailored for you and your firm and should be flexible to meet your needs as well. Sample procedures are available in the NAR Fair Housing Handbook.
REALTORS®, working individually, in their firms, and through the association, can make the REALTOR® Fair Housing Declaration relevant to the fair housing issues REALTORS® and the community face every day.
The HUD/NAR Fair Housing Partnership represents a significant commitment by the National Association of REALTORS® , to take an aggressive role in eliminating housing discrimination. NAR realizes that America is becoming an increasingly multiethnic and multiracial society and that new polices and strategies are required to foster, access, mobility and opportunity in housing for all of its people.
The new HUD/NAR partnership represents the future and it seeks to undo the patterns of separate and unequal housing that are widespread throughout America. Housing discrimination places a devastating burden on racial minorities. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that whites can also be harmed by housing discrimination, for it violates their rights to associate with minorities.
The success of the new Partnership will depend upon the extent to which it is enthusiastically and successfully embraced in local communities, by NAR, HUD, policy makers, activists and regular citizens. The vision of the Partnership is that one day neighborhoods and communities will no longer be known as the white, black, Latino or Asian neighborhood or community, but simply as a neighborhood and a community.