Lobbying for Language Accessibility

Massachusetts real estate forms are now available in multiple languages, thanks to Paul Yorkis.
Paul Yorkis

© Dave McClain

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” —President John F. Kennedy at his 1961 inauguration speech.

Paul Yorkis, watching President Kennedy’s speech as a teenager with his parents at their home in upstate New York, took Kennedy’s words to heart and made them his lifelong mission statement. “Kennedy had his personal flaws,” says Yorkis, CRS, AHWD, president of Patriot Real Estate in Medway, Mass., “but I think about the Peace Corps and other things he did to make the world a little bit better place. In my own small way, I try to make the world a little bit better place for others.”

Twenty years after watching that speech, Yorkis moved to Massachusetts to take a job in higher education. “After many years of working as an administrator in higher education, he says, “I had the opportunity to work for myself and help folks pursue part of the American dream, and it is a decision that I am very happy I made.”

‘We Can Do Better’

An interaction with an immigrant family in 2017 gave Yorkis one idea for making the world a better place. He was showing a home to a Portuguese family that relied on their 7-year-old son to interpret. “That’s not how our profession should be practiced,” Yorkis says. “None of the required forms were in a language that was accessible. So I talked to people in the state government and I said, ‘We need to change this.’ ”

A ‘P.I.A.’ in the Very Best Way

In 2021, at an event with then–Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Yorkis seized the opportunity to begin lobbying. “I introduced myself to Karyn Polito, because I’m a shy person,” Yorkis says, with a hint of sarcasm. He explained the form language issue, and Polito connected him to a member of her staff. “Eight weeks later, the agency disclosure form had been translated,” Yorkis says. During that period, Yorkis was diligent about ongoing communication and regular follow-up.

With Yorkis as the driving force, state forms have been translated into seven languges, such as Portuguese, Spanish, Creole and Mandarin Chinese.

Yorkis is a self-proclaimed “P.I.A.” (pain in the “a—”), but building relationships with government officials is one of his superpowers. In 2017, Yorkis served as president of the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, a position that connected him to state leaders. “I had a bully pulpit, so I started leveraging that activity, and I was able to get people’s attention,” he says.

“Paul has been a strong advocate for equitable housing policy and has been a true partner in increasing access to housing opportunities,” says Mass. Gov. Maura Healy. “His work spearheading language access in Massachusetts shows his commitment to this state, and it’s due to his work that people are able to use our state’s resources—regardless of what language they speak.”

Jonathan Schreiber, who serves as legislative and regulatory counsel at the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, has witnessed Yorkis’ activism in action.

“Paul puts a ton of thought and intention into what he’s doing. If he reached a decision about something, it’s because he truly believes it’s good for the industry and especially for people in need,” Schreiber says. “We have a team of people to try to influence government institutions. And Paul will just take it on himself, and he’ll succeed because he will follow up and follow up. He doesn’t take no for an answer—but in a very positive and constructive way that gets outcomes.”

With Yorkis as the driving force, additional forms have been translated into seven languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish, Creole and Mandarin Chinese. And two forms dealing with lead paint disclosure are on their way to translation.

Lighting the Torch

Another passion for Yorkis is inspiring young colleagues to advocate for their own causes. A conversation at a recent event led to a new collaboration with Ashley Gendreau, an agent who is also an American Sign Language instructor. Yorkis teamed up with Gendreau and Catherine Taylor, director of education and associate counsel for the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, to work through NAR’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion grant application process.

“This grant will create a training program for one member from each of the local REALTOR® associations in Massachusetts to be trained in American Sign Language so that they can be a resource to other real estate professionals,” Yorkis says.

“It’s an example of how we demonstrate to the residents of Massachusetts that we want to provide services to everyone, including people who are deaf.

“Ashley can now take a skill set she acquired in college and combine that with her real estate skill set and make our state a little bit better than it was before,” Yorkis says.

Continuing to expand homeownership opportunities while inspiring the next generation of real estate professionals to do the same, for Yorkis, is what it’s all about.

“I just try to advocate and make a better community. If I can help another agent or broker do good for their community, I’ll spend as much time as I have to; that’s just how I am,” he says. “Isn’t that what President Kennedy’s hope was for everybody?”

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