Fair Housing Resources
Texas Affordable Housing Specialist: This Texas REALTORS® certification equips you to help first-time and underserved homebuyers as well as increase sustainable homeownership. texasrealestate.com/tahs
At Home With Diversity: This NAR certification prepares you to work effectively with today’s diverse pool of homebuyers by addressing the topics of diversity, fair housing, and business planning development. nar.realtor/ahwd
Fairhaven: This fair housing simulation from NAR helps you identify, prevent, and address discriminatory practices. The training provides customized feedback that you can apply to business interactions. fairhaven.realtor
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs: The TDHCA Fair Housing staff provides fair housing training on reasonable accommodation, limited English proficiency, and more. firstname.lastname@example.org
Texas Workforce Commission: The commission offers free fair housing training upon request. email@example.com
Texas REALTORS® Housing Opportunity Foundation: This charity promotes and encourages workforce housing and homeownership opportunities in Texas. texasrealestate.com/housingopportunity
Bias Override: A video workshop to help you avoid implicit bias in your daily business interactions. nar.realtor/biasoverride
Let’s Talk about Race: This video from the 2020 Texas REALTORS® Conference how to have uncomfortable conversations for personal and professional growth.
Bryan Greene is the vice president of policy advocacy at NAR.
Sandra Tamez is the executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio.
Marion Napoleon, a broker/instructor with Unlimited Realty Solutions, teaches fair housing courses and has more than 20 years of experience in the real estate industry.
What are some key issues in fair housing today?
Greene: I would say the wealth differential caused by yesterday’s fair housing issues. I think the greatest challenge we have is that a century of discrimination in housing has left African Americans and other minorities with less wealth and more debt burden, as they also have less income, on average. So even if you set aside ongoing discrimination—which persists in the housing market—all things being equal, minority applicants have a more difficult time qualifying for the purchase of housing.
Tamez: There has been a focus on racial equity and how to improve access to credit for people of color. Some of the ways the industry is doing this are by looking at alternative credit data or improving credit scoring models so they can take into account a range of credible factors that determine a borrower’s capacity to repay; by looking at ways to address bias in algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies that are used as part of financing; and by looking at ways to use special-purpose credit programs to increase lending to people of color who would be otherwise unable to qualify for mortgage loans.
Napoleon: Many minorities are still trying to reconstruct their lives, credit, and living conditions from the previous housing debacle. In today’s market, lack of available housing, down payment resources, and affordable housing is keeping many low-income people and minorities from homeownership.
What would you say to people who think fair housing issues are not a problem in their area or who say they have not encountered fair housing situations?
Greene: Often, you don’t know discrimination is occurring unless you see how different people are treated at different times and compare their experiences. For example, a Black consumer may think they were shown all the units available until they learn that an equally qualified white consumer was shown twice as many homes and encouraged more in the process. Also, many agents themselves may not be aware that they are treating people differently, or they may minimize what they are doing when they encourage some and discourage others. If an agent tells a white consumer, “You don’t want to live in that neighborhood” or “Here are the places where you want to look,” that’s a good indicator that they are steering, possibly based on race. And I think there are many people who do not recognize that.
Tamez: When people think about fair housing and housing discrimination, they mostly think in terms of race discrimination, but there are actually seven protected classes under the federal Fair Housing Act. It’s also important to remember that as we progress, so do the definitions. As recently as February 11, HUD now interprets sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The majority of complaints filed with HUD or a state enforcement agency like Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division or even private organizations like ours are now based on allegations of disability discrimination. That is not to say that race discrimination is not happening. It’s just that most incidents of housing discrimination go unreported.
Napoleon: Many people are unaware of the impact of their words or actions on others. We call this unconscious or implicit bias, and we all struggle with these blind spots. In real estate classes, I ask at the beginning of class: “Are you prejudiced?” The looks are priceless. However, then I rephrase the question to, “Do you prejudge others?” Everyone mutually agrees that we all prejudge. This behavior may seem harmless, but it is painful to the person on the receiving end of your pre-judgement. Just remember, we are selling houses, not opinions.
What is the most important thing real estate professionals can do to promote fair housing?
Greene: Educate themselves on how their communities came to be racially segregated and why they remain so. Everything flows from there. If they actually investigate how their communities came to be segregated, they would begin to understand the forces at work and how those forces can perpetuate segregation today.
Tamez: It’s important that they recognize and admit that everyone has unconscious bias, including themselves. Then, once they recognize it, work and commit to actively doing things to evaluate their own actions, and make sure that they’re giving all consumers the same level of information and assistance in the homebuying process regardless of the person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status.
Napoleon: If you cite, understand, and advertise the One America Principle in your everyday activity, it will assist you in conducting an inclusive real estate practice. It embodies all that fair housing stands for.
What actions make the biggest difference?
Greene: It’s critically important to adopt standard practices for dealing with clients and adhere to those practices with everyone. Individual agents may not be able to affect the larger systemic issues, but they can at least make sure that they do no harm in their individual transactions.
Tamez: It’s important for real estate professionals to improve upon the fair housing training that they already do. I think it’s important for brokerages to conduct their own secret shopper testing in order to properly evaluate their own agents, so they can uncover and address discriminatory behavior.
Napoleon: As REALTORS®, we should train annually and take the emotions and opinion out of the real estate transaction. Make certain to stick to the data, facts, Code of Ethics, and your brokerage’s process, procedures, and in-house practices.
Where do we go from here collectively?
Greene: First, we need to acknowledge how we got here, in every community. If we understand that discrimination got us here, we will recognize that we have to work against it to make progress.
We have to commit ourselves to “do no harm.” But even that doesn’t actually prevent the situation from getting worse when we’re talking about communities, because we’ve had a hundred years of discriminatory practices. Relative wealth advantage begets more wealth, and it will be challenging for those who have historically been denied wealth to catch up. If you have these kinds of differences in saving rates, inheritance rates, returns on investment, and even income—even if we treat everyone the same—they’re going into these transactions with dramatic wealth differentials. We must address it. It’s going to take innovation and political will. We have to make sure the fair housing laws are enforced, but we also have to look at other solutions to close the wealth gap.
Tamez: It’s important that real estate professionals work collaboratively with fair housing organizations and fair housing advocates to make their voices heard. It’s all about doing things together to not only support or promote fair housing but also defend fair housing when challenged.
Napoleon: As REALTORS®, the only way we can go forward is to understand, it is not about us. We’ve got to keep the client’s
interest above our own agenda. If we practice and build our business around the Equal Professional Service Model, we are less likely to consciously or unconsciously discriminate.
NAR created the Equal Professional Service Model to help real estate agents adopt practices that enable them to anticipate and to address housing search issues fairly and equitably. It involves using systematic procedures to help ensure that agents and real estate firms are providing consistent service to all their customers. The keys to the model are offering objective information, providing a variety of choices, and letting the customers set the limits of their housing search.
What do most people not understand about fair housing?
Greene: I think there’s a large swath of the American public that believes we have racial separation in our communities out of choice. Or they believe it’s purely economic, but they don’t necessarily investigate why there is that economic differential. They believe it just has to do with earning potential, and they don’t appreciate how housing policy over the past century created those differences. I think people also don’t appreciate that the harm from discrimination is recent and systemic. So when the president of the NAR apologized last year for the role of REALTORS® in past discrimination, we heard from many people who believed he was talking about bad apples of the past, when in fact he was talking about the official policies of the NAR. Back then, discrimination was widespread and government-endorsed. The Supreme Court ruled in 1926 in Corrigan vs. Buckley that racially restrictive covenants were fine. Racially restrictive covenants didn’t become outlawed until 1948. In the intervening time, our association made it our policy to encourage racially restrictive covenants.
Tamez: Most people think that the Fair Housing Act only made it unlawful to discriminate in housing transactions. They don’t understand that the Fair Housing Act also made it the policy of the U.S. government to promote residential integration. This is a very important civil rights law that, through its passage, made a statement of our country’s desire and intent to dismantle segregation and create more diverse and inclusive communities. The Fair Housing Act can be used as an important tool to not only combat housing discrimination but also to compel local jurisdictions, like cities that get HUD funding, to create more diverse, inclusive, and affordable communities in which everyone can succeed.
Napoleon: The category of protected classes continues to grow, and our Code of Ethics is constantly being updated to address the issues both past and present.
Fair Housing Quiz
- What are the protected classes under the Fair Housing Act?
- Race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, national origin
- Age, race, religion, sex, disability, familial status, national origin
- Religion, sex, disability, occupation, citizenship, familial status, national origin
- Race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, familial status, national origin
- True or false? It is a violation of federal fair housing law to evict a tenant for using illegal drugs.
- Which of the following people are protected by federal fair housing law based on the details provided?
- A college student with no bank account
- A federal employee
- An 82-year-old woman born in Switzerland
- True or false? Sexual harassment can be a form of discrimination covered by federal fair housing laws.
- True or false? The highest percentage of housing discrimination complaints are related to disability.
- True or false? Descriptions such as “walk-in closet” and “walking distance bus stop” violate federal fair housing laws.
- True or false? Local laws can include additional protected classes.
- The Code of Ethics provides protections for which of the following classes not listed in the Fair Housing Act?
- Age and political ideology
- Sexual orientation and gender identity
- Employment status and political affiliation
- True or false? Fair housing laws protect only minorities within each of the protected classes.
- False. Current, illegal drug use of a controlled substance is not part of a protected class. However, recovering from drug addiction or substance abuse is a disability.
- c. Though age is not a protected class, sex (woman) and national origin (Switzerland) are.
- True. Examples include pervasive, unwelcome sexual conduct and quid-pro-quo demands.
- True. According to a 2020 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance, 59% of all housing discrimination complaints related to disability. The second most common category was race at 16%.
- True. Some localities include protections for students, veterans, and other classes.
- b. Article 10 of the Code of Ethics says: “REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
- False. Fair housing laws apply to everyone based on the protected classes.