50 Years of Fair Housing Training

The application of the civil rights law has evolved with the times, but the commitment to keeping REALTORS® informed about their responsibilities is unwavering.

Are you aware of how to avoid steering claims in the age of big data? Or how emotional support animals like therapy dogs are finding their way into fair housing law? Are you up to speed on illegal discrimination based on familial status?

Such scenarios are discussed in the National Association of REALTORS®’ newest offering in the category of fair housing training: “Housing Point: The Fair Housing Act Video Download.” It’s a 17-minute digital video produced as part of NAR’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Fair Housing Act.

For more than four decades, NAR has taken an active role in promoting, and educating REALTORS® about, equal housing opportunity. “Housing Point,” available from the REALTOR® Store (a revised Fair Housing Handbook is due later this year), is teeming with practical insights about how to ensure housing equality for all. But it’s also a yardstick of sorts, bearing witness to how far the industry has evolved in its thinking, actions, and messaging over the past half-century.

Many in organized real estate had a far different view of fair housing when Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968. The new era of openness and equality in the sale or rental of housing clashed with hardwired beliefs at that time, notably that fair housing law posed a threat to individual property rights. REALTOR® leaders of an earlier era pushed back against requirements that they believed represented the “coercive power of the state.” As one 1968 brochure from the national association noted, “Requiring a property owner to enter into a contract with one not of his choice is an affront to the American tradition of freedom of contract.”

It took a few more years for NAR to get fully behind the tenets of the act, but by 1972, the association began rolling out training and advertising materials to support the shift in mindset and new ways of talking about equal opportunity in housing. Among the first pro–fair housing member communications was a booklet explaining the Voluntary Affirmative Marketing Agreement, negotiated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that said new housing developments needed to have a more racially inclusive marketing approach to renters and buyers. The agreement sought to ensure that “individuals of similar income levels in the same housing market area have available to them a like range of choices in housing regardless of the individual’s race, color, religion, or national origin.”

A 1972 training manual provided scripts that brokers could use in educating their agents or that agents could use in their dealings with consumers. Those guidelines, which seem cringeworthy today, spelled out advertising language to be avoided, including “white private home,” “Hebrew,” or “ghetto.”

NAR ramped up its publication of training materials to assist local boards through the 1980s and 1990s. Books such as Passwords and Prejudice and Brokers, Buyers and Bias, along with a series of award-winning training videos, became mainstays in continuing education classes. In 1988, NAR Executive Vice President Bill North recognized the efforts of tens of thousands of REALTORS® who were at the forefront of changing “a century of bias recognized as law” in their education and advocacy efforts. “Their work,” he wrote in a dedication in Passwords, “is not done yet and cannot be finished so long as stereotypes and prejudice cloud our ability to see and accept each other as neighbors for what we are and not what we are presumed to be.”

As he signed the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson famously declared that the right to fair housing “is now a part of the American way of life.” That right also became every REALTOR®’s responsibility. For all the progress made to raise awareness and end discriminatory practices, as specified in the law and the REALTORS® Code of Ethics, the challenges for the industry and society persist. Fifty years down the road, NAR’s commitment to keeping REALTORS® apprised of their obligations to uphold fairness principles in their daily business remains a top priority.