Freedom From Unfair Housing
June 19. Freedom Day. Jubilee Day. Cel-Liberation Day.
It commemorates the end of slavery when on June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger finally made it to Galveston, Texas to read federal orders from 1861 announcing that all previously enslaved people were free. It is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Yes, this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that became official on Jan. 1, 1863. The Proclamation had little impact on Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops there to enforce the new order. With the surrender of General Lee and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally numerous and strong enough to overcome the resistance.
On this year’s June 19, and with the world focused on equality for all, it is important for us also to talk about equality in the home buying process. Despite being given the freedom from slavery in 1865, it wasn’t until 1968—52 years ago—that the Fair Housing Act was passed. The Act, in simplest terms, protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. It prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and/or disability.
Discrimination can come in two forms—direct and indirect. Direct is purposefully and impermissible basing the sale on a protected class/characteristic. Indirect is unconsciously applying a requirement or rule in the sale or rental of housing.
Direct is easy to understand. If an agent or mortgage officer steers you to one area, discourages you from others, or flat out refuses to show you homes in an area, it is fairly easy to see how that is a violation of fair housing. As a renter, no landlord can refuse to accept a housing voucher if that voucher is applicable to the price point and area assigned.
Indirect can be much harder to detect. It can be treating clients differently in subtle ways. For example, as agents, our clients often ask us about schools, crime rates, and the demographic make up of a neighborhood or a building. On the surface, a buyer typically asks these types of questions for a variety of sincere reasons. Many of our clients are relocating to an area and they are looking to their real estate agent as a trusted source of information—and they know agents love to be helpful. As innocent and sincere as these questions may be, your agent should never answer them. Why you may ask? Answering these could steer a buyer toward an area, or away from a home, toward or away from a condo building, or even toward or away from an entire neighborhood. Answering questions on crime, schools, and regarding people are violations of fair housing even if the intent was to be helpful to you as a buyer. What your agent should do instead is assist you with finding resources that can help you as the buyer with finding the information you want and need. They can direct you to sites that track crime, sites that offer insights on school rankings, and other neighborhood resources so you can learn about the areas in which you are considering a purchase.
Are we still seeing fair housing violations today? Unfortunately, yes. Even ones that aren’t meant to hurt or harm. Even agents are discriminated against as we are often treated differently in a listing presentation or at the buyer agent selection interview process.
As a Realtor, helping people find their vision of home is a responsibility and a privilege. Treating everyone with equal respect and dignity is paramount. Everyone deserves a wonderful place to call home in the neighborhood of their choice. Homeownership is more than shelter; it is a gateway to emotional and economic opportunities. Homeownership enriches lives, supports communities, strengthens culture, and enhances society. Additionally, owning a home is a wealth builder as a home is often the largest asset of a homeowner’s net worth.
At Coldwell Banker, we are proud to stand up for Fair Housing. Our company has designed an entire education module that includes training, a pledge for all employees and agents to stand up for Fair Housing, and a certification course that takes the education and that pledge even further.
Equality, respect, and dignity—three tenants that are of the utmost importance in housing, and on this June 19.
Editor's Note: Originally published in The Washington Blade, June 19, 2020.