Fair Housing Champion Stresses ‘Freedom’ in Homeownership

Rafael Perez highlighted the impact of owning a home on the ability to build generational wealth in a discussion with members of Congress about financial security in the Latino community.

Rafael Perez, whom the National Association of REALTORS® named a 2022 Fair Housing Champion, often shares his own family’s experience with housing discrimination to demonstrate how bias in real estate can impact generational wealth.

Perez recalls that when he was a boy, his parents found a home for their young family but were dissuaded from purchasing it by an agent who told them, “This would not be a good place for your kids to grow up.”

That property is now worth millions of dollars.

Perez, a real estate professional with Axia Real Estate Group in San Diego, helps Latino families create generational wealth through homeownership and assists residents who have been displaced by development move back into their old neighborhoods. Perez drew on these experiences and shared his insights with attendees Wednesday at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 2023 Leadership Conference.

The panel, titled “Building a Legacy: How Latino Families Can Secure Their Financial Future,” also featured Luz Maria Vergara, senior vice president at Wells Fargo; John Jones, senior vice president at Nareit; Jose Luis Briones, public policy manager at Airbnb; and moderator Tonantzin Carmona, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, opened the session by talking about the role of financial literacy and homeownership in helping promote economic mobility and prosperity for Latino families. “We must instill financial literacy early in life,” he stressed, echoing the mission of NAR President Tracy Kasper’s Ignite Others high school financial literacy program.

Perez stressed the “freedom and flexibility” that homeownership provides families by allowing them to “lower their costs and increase their income.” He said the process needs to be taken a step further to help families invest the difference and ensure they reap all the financial benefits.

When Carmona asked the panelists to share what policymakers should focus on to help Latino families build wealth, housing affordability was broached first. Perez shared the findings of an NAR report that found the U.S. is short by more than 5 million residential units, equaling a $4 trillion underinvestment in housing. This historic shortage hurts traditionally underserved and first-time home buyers most.

“Anything that creates more inventory is where the solution lies,” Perez said. He cited policies enacted in his home state of California on zoning and accessory dwelling units as examples of how government can help provide more housing and create greater wealth-building opportunities.

Perez has extensive experience as a mortgage banker, lender and educator. He serves on the board of the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS®, is a member of NAR’s Fair Housing Policy Committee and is a past president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. He also works on innovative housing supply solutions as a board member for the Casita Coalition.

“There was a historical injustice, and now we need to make things right,” Perez said. “We should focus on empowering people from the community rather than just sprinkling some equity on it.”