In 2018, during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the National Association of REALTORS® laid bare its painful past in perpetuating housing discrimination across America. While the leadership team acknowledged at the time that the organization had been “on the wrong side of history” and vowed to work harder to treat all home buyers and sellers equitably, the sentiments stopped short of a full-on apology.
On Thursday, NAR apologized.
During a virtual summit on diversity and inclusion hosted by The Hill, a top political website, and co-sponsored by NAR, 2021 President Charlie Oppler said unequivocally that NAR’s past policies in support of racist practices, including steering, redlining, and creating covenants that prohibited nonwhite people from living in certain communities, were wrong.
“What REALTORS® did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals. It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality,” said Oppler, who participated in the presentation along with NAR’s director of fair housing policy Bryan Greene. “We are sorry.”
Discriminatory practices weren’t just tolerated for many years—they were baked into the association’s guiding principles for much of the 20th century. This passage from the Code of Ethics, added in 1924, was revised over the years but not fully repealed until 1974: REALTORS® “should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood ... members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”
For decades, REALTORS® excluded members based on race and sex from many associations, and the national association formally opposed the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
And while the association has long jettisoned egregious policies of the past, many problems stemming from these inequities remain to be solved. Racial justice protests last summer in many U.S. cities following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, along with the searing account of housing discrimination published in Long Island’s Newsday, have forced a deeper reckoning by many NAR members about all the ways systemic racism causes harm to the industry and society.
“We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past, but we can look this problem squarely in the eye,” Oppler added during The Hill discussion. “Change starts with us. We must remember this history if we hope to repair America’s racially divided communities.”
In January, NAR unveiled the Fair Housing ACT! plan, which focuses on accountability, culture change, and training as ways to address ongoing discrimination in housing transactions, affecting home buyers, home sellers, and renters. In July, NAR released a new implicit bias training video aimed at helping real estate professionals recognize prejudice that persists often without conscious awareness and despite best intentions.
In another bold move to reinforce fair housing principles, the NAR Board of Directors last week voted to ban discriminatory hate speech and conduct—defined as “using harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, or slurs based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity, in any context”—against protected classes. This carefully considered addition to the Code of Ethics came in response to a wave of complaints in recent months about REALTORS® posting discriminatory speech and conduct online, especially on social media.
And just today, NAR announced that a new interactive training platform designed to help combat discrimination in the real estate market is now available at no cost to real estate professionals throughout the country. Fairhaven is an immersive simulation where agents work against the clock to close four transactions, confronting various scenarios where discrimination arises.
Greene discussed the profound impact of the legacy of racism, as the association fights for a more equitable future. “Our neighborhoods are still very segregated. You can see the imprint of redlining from 80 years ago. Many of these discriminatory practices denied opportunities for families to pass on wealth,” Greene said. “That’s reflected in the homeownership gap today, where there’s a 30-percentage point gap between African Americans and white Americans. White Americans own 10 times the wealth of African Americans.”
And the effects of discrimination are far broader than housing. “It means we have health disparities, employment disparities, educational disparities,” Greene added. “Unfortunately, this is all the legacy of the past.”
As NAR continues to tackle these challenges, you can find ways to help, too. Members have an important role in the ongoing work to advance equality and inclusion. Said Oppler, “REALTORS® must be active participants. It’s the right thing to do, and it is long overdue.”