The global conversation surrounding race and discrimination has reached a new level, and it’s important for industries across the board to take this opportunity to learn and grow. This is not a simple issue. There are many challenges that both individuals and businesses will face as they move forward to eradicate discriminatory systems.
In the real estate industry, there is one historical example of systemic racism that can help put this into perspective: redlining, which involved housing policies that discriminated against Black Americans. Banks and other financial institutions engaged in redlining by limiting mortgages to specific customers in specific neighborhoods. This practice prevented Black Americans from buying homes, resulting in a snowball effect that impacted jobs, education, safety, and access to food, amenities, and services.
Over time, legislation like the Fair Housing Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act were developed to minimize this blatant discrimination—but unfairness was not eliminated altogether. As awareness around equality and justice rise and we look at some of the recent history surrounding these issues, it is time to ask ourselves: What can we do to help foster equality, diversity, and inclusivity in the real estate industry?
As you explore the different ways you can participate in this conversation and put plans in place to positively contribute to diversity and equality, it is important to remember that directing your individual actions is most under your control.
Educate yourself on history at the national, state, and local levels. Change starts with understanding the practices and problems that got us to where we are today. Watch the National Association of REALTORS®’ new implicit bias training video, “Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing,” which aims to help you uncover and address unconscious stereotypes. If you’re not already familiar—or even if you just need a refresher—take the time to educate yourself on the history of redlining and the general history of inequality in the real estate industry. Delve a bit deeper in your own city and state to get a stronger grasp on what has taken place in your community.
Equipping yourself with as much background information as possible and understanding the struggles people of color have faced in the past and continue to grapple with today will help you make more knowledgeable decisions moving forward.
Understand and uphold fair housing laws. All real estate professionals are legally required to uphold federal fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Many states also have more inclusive fair housing laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity protections. As a housing professional, you are required to provide equal service to everyone. It is your job to fully understand disparate impact and identify ways you might be violating the Fair Housing Act unintentionally—and immediately change your behavior.
Develop or participate in training opportunities. Look for workshops, training sessions, or other educational opportunities that discuss racial bias, diversity, equality, and inclusivity, including at your local and state REALTOR® associations. If there isn’t much available in your area, there are a plethora of options available online, such as the At Home with Diversity certification.
If you plan to hire staff or recruit agents down the line, develop training materials now that outline the history of racial bias in real estate, best practices to encourage diversity and equality, and methods to avoid biased practices.
Set specific, measurable goals. Once you’ve equipped yourself with the knowledge and tools you need to enforce change, hold yourself accountable through measurable actions. This can include steps like setting specific key performance indicators and measurable metrics, updating company handbooks and onboarding materials, or training for agents.
Implement new programs. Where can you play a role in your local community? If it’s available to you, consider developing a mentorship or internship program for high school and college students that includes guidance on diversity and equality best practices. You might be able to join or develop your own task force in the community to continue these important conversations and address issues in innovative ways.
Get more involved where you can. You can start with something as simple as tapping into different communities in your area (outside of the ones you usually work in) to better understand the needs of different clients. Research cultural traditions and break barriers through shared experiences. Contribute to or align yourself with organizations in your area that promote cultural diversity and community development. Position yourself as a resource for promoting community investment and affordable housing options.
We have a long road ahead of us when it comes to creating systemic changes and ensuring diversity, equality, and inclusivity in the real estate industry. There are many small steps you can take as an individual to foster equality and create a new standard moving forward.