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Realtors must always strive to do better on fair housing

by special contributor

Realtors must always strive to do better on fair housing

John Dulczewski, Executive Vice President, Greater Boston Association of Realtors

With acts of racial injustice and hate crimes stealing the news headlines on an increasingly regular basis, this past year will likely go down as one of the most divisive in recent memory. It’s at times like these that we must look to come together behind common values and beliefs. As an industry, there’s no more responsible and tangible way we can do this than by promoting and supporting fair housing laws and the rights of all citizens to enjoy equal professional service during the purchase, sale, lease and financing of real property.

While we often put an emphasis on best practices to ensure equal opportunity in housing each April as part of our association’s observance of National Fair Housing Month, this is an issue that must stay top of mind with agents and brokers all year long. Not only is it illegal to discriminate — and unethical if you are a Realtor — but with such a diverse population in Greater Boston, treating everyone equally simply makes good business sense.

As we know, Boston is a melting pot of people from all places, all backgrounds and all walks of life. Additionally, research has shown that home ownership provides many societal benefits. It is the best way to build long-term wealth and also helps to promote neighborhood stability, as well as happier and healthier residents. It’s why we must continue to strive to make our communities more inclusive, and fair housing is just the means to achieve this goal.

For this reason, at the Greater Boston Association of Realtors (GBAR), we work tirelessly to provide our members with the training and education they need to serve a distinct mix of homebuyers and renters. This has included collaborative efforts with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and Massachusetts Fair Housing Commission, as well as presentation of the At Home With Diversity certification course and the Fairhaven: Fair Housing Simulator training program in conjunction with the National Association of Realtors. Our members also have advocated in recent years to extend protections in housing to persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we support legislation filed on Beacon Hill to mandate regular, ongoing instruction on fair housing for all agents and brokers in order to renew their real estate license.

Additionally, after a study by The Boston Foundation and Suffolk University Law School last year discovered discrimination in the rental housing market based on race and source of income, we joined with agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and the city of Boston’s Office of Fair Housing and Equity to offer training intended to improve understanding of state and federal rental voucher programs in an effort to combat discrimination based on public assistance.

For far too long, minorities and those in other protected classes have been made to feel unwelcome during the housing search process. Whether it’s due to ignorance, prejudice or implicit biases that come into play, Realtors have a legal, ethical and moral responsibility to reject discrimination when they confront it. Turning a blind eye to it is to be complicit. 

Article 10 of the Realtor Code of Ethics clearly states: “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. Instead, owners who want to place restrictions as to who can view, rent or purchase a property must be informed of their duties, and yours, under the fair housing laws, and you may need to walk away from the listing if necessary.”

Importantly, another effective business strategy for meeting your commitment to providing equal professional service to all is to be consistent in your behavior when interacting with the public. To do this, at every step of the way — when conducting business and interacting with consumers — it’s essential to have established routines and scripts to minimize the risk of treating parties differently.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from the old, segregated neighborhoods of Boston in the 1900s, and we have also corrected past policies from the early days of the Realtor organization which promoted racial inequality through support for practices like redlining and racially restrictive covenants. However, we cannot forget the failures of our past and must strive to do better.

In our industry, the reality is that the actions of a single agent or broker can often be perceived as the behavior of an entire profession. In Greater Boston, that means the misstep by one could negatively affect the reputation of 10,000-plus real estate professionals. So, I challenge you to do your part. Don’t limit your focus on fair housing to one month. Do the right thing and commit yourself to a year-long observance of the law and treating everyone equally in their quest for housing.

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