Real Estate and Fair Housing

Regulations to Combat Discrimination

Credit: Courtesy

Q: Marsha, my Realtor told me she’s taking a fair housing class for one of her continuing education requirements in real estate. Why is this necessary?

A: That’s a great question, especially as April is Fair Housing Month. What seems like a simple and obvious subject — treat everyone fairly — is really a vast and complicated discussion.

Do you know what a Realtist is? A Realtist is a member of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). This is an organization that was formed in Tampa, Florida, in 1947 by African-American real estate professionals to serve the housing needs of their community. From its inception, this organization has forced politicians to take fair housing seriously. Everyone today who benefits from fair housing laws can thank the Realtists of the NAREB.  

Here are the primary types of housing discrimination. Redlining is a term that was created in the 1960s by sociologist John McKnight. It comes from the simple act of lenders and real estate professionals literally drawing a red circle on a map around certain areas and neighborhoods. These locations were considered risky and dangerous. It was difficult to obtain loans or housing in the redlined areas, and homes were valued less.  

Steering is another form of discrimination. Real estate agents would show homes only in particular areas to certain ethnic groups. The agents were steering clients to certain neighborhoods where they felt the buyers (or neighbors) would be most comfortable. Instead of buyers making their own decisions about where to live, the agents made it for them.  

Change is a constant in all neighborhoods. Blocks and districts are constantly in a cycle of being new, mature, in decline, or renewed and regenerated. Blockbusting is one of the more self-serving practices that real estate agents did. When the agents sensed the area was in the mature phase of the cycle, they would start knocking on doors and telling the white owners that the street was in decline. They created a panic that minorities were moving in and home values would soon plummet. This was a self-serving prophecy that destroyed neighborhoods.

My first encounter with housing discrimination occurred in the late 1990s. I was working with a second-generation Latino couple. He had a good job with our state government, and she worked in the local defense industry. It was a buyers’ market, and we were the only offer on a family home in Goleta. We didn’t receive a response from the seller’s agent. I kept calling, and he was waffling about getting back to me. The husband said it was apparent why they weren’t getting a response. I discounted his implication that it was because of their ethnicity. That simply couldn’t be true. The agent finally responded with, “These people are so pushy, what is their rush?” It shocked me that my client had nailed it. The agent was waiting for offers from people he liked better. We did get the home, and I lost my naiveté as a real estate agent. 

Today, fair housing means so much more than ending discrimination against minorities. Fair housing laws apply to race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disabilities. It is an ever-evolving issue. 

If you have questions about fair housing rules and regulations, ask your real estate agent, or visit the National Association of Realtors website at nar.realtor.

Marsha Gray, DRE #012102130, NMLS#1982164, has been a real estate broker in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, real estate services and lending. To read more Q&A articles, visit marshagraysbhomes.com. She will research and answer all questions submitted. Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or marshagraysb@gmail.com.


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