This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA bans discrimination in housing-related transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Much progress has been made, but there are still persistent inequalities in access to high-quality neighborhoods with good employment, well-performing schools, and transportation. While it may not be as apparent as it was 50 years ago, many neighborhoods nationwide remain racially segregated.
Not only is having affordable housing in high-quality neighborhoods good for individuals and families, it is also good for communities. A housing supply with an adequate number of homes among all income levels is important to supporting long-term, sustainable economic growth.
Steering, segregation, and bias are discrimination concepts to be cognizant of when working in the real estate industry. Steering is an often-unintentional practice among real estate professionals to guide homebuyers toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race or identity. While other forms of discrimination have decreased since the passing of the FHA, racial and ethnic steering has increased since 1999 for both African American and Hispanic homebuyers. Minority homebuyers are less likely to be shown homes in neighborhoods with a high proportion of white residents in comparison to white homebuyers with the same or similar housing needs. Whether or not real estate professionals intend to or are aware they are doing these things, it can still be considered discrimination and a violation of the FHA.
Buyers will often ask their real estate agent to recommend neighborhoods, so a careful and non-biased response is critical. There are ways to find out what neighborhoods would be a good fit for your client without inadvertently violating the FHA by steering.
Asking about hobbies is a great way to determine a property or neighborhood that would fit their needs without prying into sensitive matters.
Schools are often a topic that buyers are concerned with. You can direct them to school districts' websites, suggest visiting the schools, and assist in locating district boundaries, but be sure not to personally comment on the quality of the schools.
When buyers ask about crime rates and safety, it can lead to some risky conversations. It would be safest to direct them to the police department or other similar sources of information if they want a picture of the crime rate in a specific area. It’s risky to discuss crime rates and statistics, even if you believe them to be true.
Create a list of places of worship to provide to clients and prospective buyers as part of a standard resource for any client who requests that information.
If a buyer would like to know specific demographics of a neighborhood or area, advise them to check the Census Bureau website. There is a fact finder section that can assist with details on racial, ethnic, and income breakdowns.
Some buyers may dig for information more than others. If that’s the case, it’s always an option to let them know that providing certain information could be considered steering based on race, color, or other categories protected by the FHA. Assist buyers by directing them to unbiased resources they can use to collect their own information.
Additional Tips to Remember
It is also important to remember to be consistent with your business practices. For example, if you ask for a prequalification letter before showing a home, apply that same standard to everyone. When writing a listing, be aware of certain phrases that could be viewed as discriminatory. Writing a home is “perfect for bikers” because it’s near many bike paths could be excluding those potential buyers with disabilities. A more inclusive way of describing it would be “near many bike paths.” Always try to be as objective as possible rather than sharing subjective opinions or assumptions.
The progress that has been made since the passage of the FHA in 1968 is reason to be proud, but it is also important to continue to fight against all forms of differential treatment, whether intentional or not. This not only protects you as a real estate professional, but also continues to foster a more fair and equal market for all homebuyers, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.