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Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger

by Carol Weinrich Helsel

Fair Housing Act Bug2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, signed into law in April 1968. The Act currently prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status and national origin. To mark this anniversary, the National Association of REALTORS® announced a year-long Fair Housing Campaign, which will be launched to members in January 2018.

Under the theme “Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger,” NAR is engaging industry partners and allies, including the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, to focus on changes in our nation’s understanding of who has property rights and how these rights have evolved since 1789 when the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed to protect property rights.

These rights, however, did not serve all people. Slaves were considered property and, therefore, had no rights. Women’s rights were not protected under the Constitution as, following British law, their property was typically under the control of their husbands. Other citizens, including those of African, Asian and Latin American descent were frequently denied rights through legislation and court decisions. 

We’ve come a long way baby…

As early as 1823, Maine and Massachusetts granted property ownership rights to women deserted by their husbands, but it was not until 1839 that Mississippi became the first state to give married women limited property rights. In 1848, New York enacted the more extensive Married Women’s Property Act, which served as a model for many other states between 1848 and 1895. By 1900 every U.S. state had given married women substantial control over their property, but as late as the 1960s, women still encountered challenges to their property rights, such as instances where landlords would not lease to a single woman without her father’s permission.

The 1960s were a momentous time for civil rights issues, most notably for African Americans. The Fair Housing Act was a pivotal point in the history of property rights, but it did not end discriminatory housing practices. Although NAR opposed passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, it adopted, in 1975, an agreement with HUD to promote fair housing and to educate members regarding their rights and obligations under the Fair Housing Act. In 1988, NAR supported expanding the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on familial status and handicap or disability. In 2016 NAR resolved to seek changes in the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

…but we still have a way to go

The Women’s Council has a long and proud history of advancing the role of women in real estate and for equality in general. It is not a coincidence that the Council and theNational Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) — which is composed principally of African American real estate professionals — were both formed in the first half of the 20th century. At that time, NAR did not prevent local boards from limiting membership based on race or gender, discouraging entry for women and African American professionals into the industry.

2010 National Women's Council President Deborah Gilmore, who serves on NAR’s 2017-18 Fair Housing Working Group, recalls the Council being ahead of the curve on diversity, creating an official statement that became part of the Council’s core values.

“Advocating for leadership diversity was not limited to just gender or race, but inclusive of age, geographical location, and other factors,” said Deborah. “This is still very relevant today and the Council has an important role to play.” Deborah would like to see the organization pursue a “purposeful direction” in gaining a broader recognition and understanding of the Fair Housing Act, how it impacts the business of real estate today, how it will affect business in the future, and that it is not just an “April event” but a continuous, conscious business practice.

Fair housing goes beyond the transactionFairhousingarticle

While thankfully our nation is making progress regarding overt racial discrimination, there remain underlying and often unintentional discriminatory practices. These are often associated with economics, and not always seen as a “fair housing” issue at all.

But fair housing goes well beyond the transaction. Housing is closely linked to outcomes related to health, education and economic opportunities. Buyers and sellers are not the only ones impacted. It is more difficult to sell properties in places deemed less desirable. If that perception has any correlation with a racial (or other minority) population, it becomes a hindrance for REALTORS®’ ability to earn a living.

In the coming months, NAR-organized focus groups will explore members’ perceptions and concerns about these topics — and the underlying causes. The information will be used to develop resources to help associations address these issues at the local level.

Opportunities for Women’s Council members

The Women’s Council is well-positioned to support and further this cause given its strong track record of leadership and commitment to gender equity. As a trailblazer in advancing women as leaders, the Council is a wellspring of best practice models for leadership on community issues. And that is what fair housing is — a community issue that impacts buyers, sellers and the livelihood of REALTORS®.

Information on the campaign is available at on the NAR website and more details will be released in November at the NAR Conference and Expo. You can follow the activities planned by NAR — some of which national Council leaders will be directly involved with. Throughout 2018 there will be many opportunities to learn about the fair housing issues we face today, and access resources to assist the REALTOR® community in sharing the story of the importance of fair housing in our industry and in our communities, underscoring how “Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger.”


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