Published in The American Genius
Last month, the nation honored the life, memory, and enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In conversations with my staff surrounding the holiday, I was reminded of Dr. King's "Freedom Sunday" march in the summer of 1966.
On that July morning, King and some 30,000 activists braved angry mobs and the threat of violence as they progressed toward Chicago's City Hall to present to Mayor Richard Daley a list of reforms they hoped would break down the city's "infamous wall of segregation."
Although resulting in only modest changes to Chicago's housing policies, Dr. King recognized the moment as a pivotal "first step in a thousand-mile journey."
While Congress passed major civil rights legislation in other arenas in 1964 and 1965, the Fair Housing Act was stalled as opposition from powerful forces, including the National Association of Realtors®, made its passage virtually impossible. History was forever changed, however, when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in the early spring of 1968.
Within a week, President Lyndon B. Johnson had successfully pushed Congress to pass the landmark housing rights legislation. On the day he signed the bill into law, April 11, 1968, the President labeled the accomplishment that seemed improbable just a few months prior "a fitting memorial to Dr. King's life's work and legacy."
As we commemorate Black History Month in February, this "legacy" that President Johnson spoke of lives on, in the triumphs of Dr. King and of countless other Black Americans.
Indeed, untold current and former members, staff, and volunteer leaders have worked tirelessly to transform NAR from an association that barred Black members and fought passage of the Fair Housing Act to one of the real estate industry's most vocal drivers for universal access and equality.
At the heart of this month of remembrance is the heroism, bravery, and leadership of these individuals.
At NAR, like much of America, we continue our study of the past in order to dismantle the systemic barriers impeding a more prosperous future. This is the only way to make the next wave of Black history—and American history—a story we will all be proud to tell.
America's racial homeownership gap is perhaps the best living example of the consequences of a long history of widespread, pervasive discrimination.
The 43% homeownership rate for Black Americans significantly lags the national average (65%). Compare that to the rate for White Americans (72%), and the contrast is even more stark.
This, we view, as the most consequential civil rights issue of our day.
Alongside a steering committee of representatives from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the Urban Institute, among others, NAR recently helped launch the Black Homeownership Collaborative—a mission-focused coalition intent on creating 3 million net new Black homeowners in America by 2030.
Identified within the initiative, known simply as "3by30," are seven programs and policy areas the Collaborative contends will help make this 3-million-new-homeowner goal a reality before the end of the decade.
Among those action items are the broadening of access to mortgage credit, a nationwide increase in housing supply, and a targeted down payment assistance program.
Homeownership remains the standard marker of the American Dream. Various converging market forces, however, have made this goal less attainable over the past decade — a phenomenon that is true for countless prospective homebuyers, no matter their race.
But, as an NAR study from earlier this month (The Double Trouble of the Housing Market) shows, these factors have made circumstances particularly bleak for Black Americans.
The research, released on February 7, examines the impact of rapidly escalating home prices and diminishing inventory on housing affordability in America.
In their joint report, NAR and realtor.com® combed through affordability data by race in the nation's 100 largest metro areas, accounting for the affordability of homes currently for sale to consider affordability for all income groups.
The report identified Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Charleston, South Carolina, among the metropolitan areas with the largest affordability gaps between White and Black households.
Here, Blacks are roughly half as likely to be able to afford a home as their White counterparts.
One of (although far from the only) variable exacerbating this problem is the fact the 35% of White households in America have incomes greater than $100,000, while just 20% of Black households exceed that six-figure threshold.
This February, as we observe Black History Month, we consider the sacrifices of so many Black Americans who helped pave the way for the overdue transformations unfolding in society today. We remember this enduring "legacy" — of Dr. King and countless others — as we continue our pursuit of a more fair, equitable, and accessible real estate market in America.
But our study of history is essentially rendered meaningless if not applied to improve our future.
As the individuals perhaps most closely associated with the transfer of property and the attainment of the American Dream, Realtors® find themselves in an incredibly impactful position to better future circumstances for Black Americans — and for everyone in this country.
I am tremendously proud that NAR was one of the initial sponsors of construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. Our organization remains a close partner of the Memorial Foundation, having supported the group last year as it launched a Social Justice Fellows program to mold our nation's next generation of community and civic leaders.
Today, a decade after opening to the public, the Memorial attracts some 3 million visitors annually to its site along the National Mall's Tidal Basin.
Last year, many of us from NAR joined the Memorial's 10th anniversary ceremony to celebrate the tenets of democracy and justice the monument embodies. These ideals, the foundation of Dr. King's lasting legacy, fuel NAR's unceasing efforts to increase access to safe, fair, and affordable housing in America.
The pursuit of our own earthly legacy is continual. We seek to create a better future for our grandchildren and make meaningful progress with each passing generation.
The legacy of our association and of our industry could well be judged by our work today to ensure homeownership — and all of its long-term wealth-building opportunities — is accessible to as many Americans as possible.
And for as long as our work remains incomplete, our history will continue to be written.