Like all of you, over the past few weeks, I’ve been watching and learning about the systemic racism that runs deep in our county.
It feels like an awakening is happening.
And although my education on this subject has only just begun, I’ve realized very quickly that this moment is not just about police violence against black people, but the fact that white privilege and racism is built into every structure that supports the foundation of our country—everything from healthcare, to schooling, to housing, even decades after the Civil Rights Act and The Fair Housing Act were passed.
I didn’t realize racism’s fingers were still in so many places so deeply, until now. Right there, that’s my white privilege.
The big question now is how do we create lasting, systemic change after the donations have been given, after the protests die down, and after the social media posts end?
I heard things like fill out the Census and vote at every election, especially the local ones. Check and check. Got it.
But, I was still personally left with this numb feeling like that it didn’t seem like enough.
And then I read something Lizzo retweeted, and I don’t know who to attribute the original quote to, I believe it was @Lindss_tastic, but it said,
Resistance is NOT a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.
That made me think about how, as a real estate agent, my lane can be housing.
As real estate agents, shouldn’t we all become more aware of the racism and white privilege that still, to this day, plays such a significant role in access to and inequality in housing?
Maybe if we become more aware, we could start to consciously unravel the threads of racism in our industry?
And, shouldn’t we also focus on making sure we are building anti-racist real estate businesses too?
I am not yet in a position to teach about these topics or drive any kind of action-oriented call for change, because I am still learning, unlearning and becoming educated myself.
My intention today to simply bring awareness and attention the most basic level, and to share some of the resources I have found in this first phase of learning, with you, my fellow real estate agents.
My hope is from there, we can find ways to make long lasting changes in our real estate business and in the real estate industry.
And, lastly, because, this moment is so crucial and important that turning away, pretending it’s not happening, being compliant or complacent or choosing to be silent no longer feel like options.
So, let’s shine some light on how racism is still alive in the real estate industry today and then let’s talk about what we, as real estate agents, can start doing to effect change in our industry.
As recently as only one or two generations ago, depending on your age, black people were not able to get loans or buy homes in certain neighborhoods, including in the very neighborhoods they lived.
A new movie that illustrates what it was like back then is on Apple TV right now called The Banker. Watch it.
We all have learned and seen historical racism and perhaps, like me, you naively thought the passage of the Civil Rights Act and The Fair Housing Act, created equality when it comes to housing, loans, and the ability to create wealth in real estate.
Not only because the “African American families that were prohibited from buying homes in the suburbs in the 1940s and ‘50s and even in the 1960s by the Federal Housing Administration gained none of the equity appreciation that whites gained,” says Richard Rothstein author of Color of Law, but also because the effects of pre-1960s redlining are still being felt, particularly by black families today, 50 years later.
A significant gap still exists between black and white families specifically in terms of access to homeownership.
Just last week, Redfin published a study called Redlining’s Legacy of Inequality: $212,000 Less Home Equity, Low Homeownership Rates For Black Families.
- Redlining, though outlawed in the 1960s, remains a major factor in today’s wealth gap between Black and white families
- The typical homeowner in a neighborhood that was redlined for mortgage lending by the federal government has gained 52% less—or $212,023 less—in personal wealth generated by property value increases than one in a greenlined neighborhood over the last 40 years
- Black homeowners are nearly five times more likely to own in a formerly redlined neighborhood than in a greenlined neighborhood, resulting in diminished home equity and overall economic inequality for Black families.
- That has had a lingering effect on their children and grandchildren, who don’t have the same economic opportunities as their white counterparts
Want to go even deeper on the subject of racism in today’s housing market? I recommend:
- The Center for American Progress’ report released in July 2019: Racial Disparities in Home Appreciation: Implications of the Racially Segmented Housing Market for African Americans’ Equity Building and the Enforcement of Fair Housing Policies.
- A Battle For Fair Housing Still Raging, But Mostly Forgotten, NPR, December 2013
- Coronavirus Could Widen the Wealth Gap, Washington Post, June 13 2020
- The Black-White Economic Divide Is As Wide As It Was in 1968, Washington Post, June 4, 2020
- Anything written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, but here are a few articles to start with:
Bottom Line: Systematic racism, especially in housing, leads to a racial divide in wealth. Yes, even now. Not only do Black Lives Matter but Black Wealth Matters and homeownership is key to building wealth and closing the equity gap.
The Role of White Privilege
When I first heard that term, I ignorantly thought it didn’t apply to me. My parents were the first in their families to go to college, my dad having grown up on a farm in rural Maryland, and my mom is first generation Italian American and didn’t even speak English until she went to elementary school.
We lived a very middle class existence and worked really hard for everything we had. Surely, the white privilege category didn’t apply to me.
But then someone explained it this way and I finally understood that, in fact, it did apply to me.
They said, white privilege is not about affluence. It’s not about lack of hard work. It’s not about struggle or lack of struggle. It’s not about being rich.
It’s about being white. That the color of my skin, because it’s white, means I have privilege.
It’s about the system that exists to push white people forward and hold black people where they are.
They explained white privilege is like swimming with the current and the black experience is like swimming upstream.
That explanation made me think back to when I bought my first home at the age of 24 and all the things along the way that happened to make that possible for me—from my education to the job I got after college to seeing my parents own homes and growing up in a “good” school district. Each one of those circumstances easily leading to the next.
That’s white privilege.
I think about how selling that first home created enough equity for me to move out of a terrible personal situation I needed to move on from.
I think about all the people who don’t have that luxury. That’s white privilege.
Those are just two small examples, but being willing to admit that white privilege exists and that I benefited from it, perhaps begins to dismantle it. Because if I’m willing to admit it exists, then I have to also admit that equality doesn’t.
Bottom Line: The playing field is still not equal today, and it never has been. That needs to change. Housing is one of the places it needs to change the most.
What Can Real Estate Agents Do?
Racism in housing, the industry we chose to work in, exists in a very structured, systemic and lasting way today and change is necessary on many levels.
So the question is — are we finally willing to face the reality and actually do something about it?
Where will we go from here?
It’s one thing to understand the situation, it’s another to actually change it.
But, here’s the thing…we can’t unravel decades of overt and unconscious racism and undo injustice, inequality and housing discrimination in one sitting.
This is not about attending a fair housing webinar. Or watching a particular movie. Or reading a few articles or books.
There is no list of “The Top 5 Ways Not To Be A Racist Real Estate Agent” that we can all check off and make sure we’re okay.
This is a commitment to life-long awareness and action.
So, where do we start, as real estate agents?
By no means do I think these initial steps will completely solve the issue, but here are some places to start creating change in your real estate businesses:
- Continuous Education
We announced the Agent Grad School Summer Book Club back on June 1st and we’ll be adding three more books to the summer reading list:
Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America By Richard Rothstein
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore
I will be reaching out to each author and other experts who will hopefully be willing to have a book club discussion about these books between now and the end of our summer book club.
If you’d like to be part of that book club discussion, please reach out to me at jennifer@AgentGradSchool.com, I’d love to have you be part of the conversation!
2. Consciously Create Anti-Racist Real Estate Businesses
Several small business mentors that I look up to held a town hall called “Reimagining Small Business: A Town Hall to Listen, Learn & Commit To Building Equitable, Anti-racist Organizations”
During the two hour town hall, they outlined specific ways that small business owners (yes, that includes us real estate agents!) can fight racism and build a better world. You can access the replay here.
The “big ask” of the town hall was to commit to building equitable, anti-racist small businesses by signing The Anti-racist Small Business Pledge.
I signed and I am committed. Yes, it will take some extra work, time and money to understand how to bring that commitment to fruition, but like any business goal, I’ll education myself, hire experts to help me and put things in place to achieve the goal I’ve set out to reach. It’s worth it.
Another resource I recommend Understanding Racism 101 By Brit Barron. You can learn more about that here.
3. Commit to Always Use Our Expertise to Change People’s Lives for The Better
Believe it or not, our choice to be a real estate agent can help create change and even help fight racism if we let it.
We can use this vocation as a bridge to help others who could be homeowners, but may face roadblocks, and with your guidance and expertise, find a way to make their homeownership dreams come true.
We can educate people and teach them how to overcome the obstacles that stand in between where they are and where they want to be.
We can help create wealth through homeownership for generations where no pathway to wealth existed before.
We can help someone become the first member of their family to be a homeowner, making what seemed impossible, a reality.
We can focus on truly helping people make their dreams come true, and not just focus on our commission check.
We can make it our mission to find people who believe in the idea that responsible homeownership changes lives for the better, but just don’t know how or think it’s not possible for them.
We can show someone how to remove the obstacles they think are standing in their way, one by one, because you know how and you know what owning a home can create in their life.
As real estate agents, we can do so much if we stop just focusing on how many houses we sell or our commissions checks, but start focusing on truly helping people that need it.
We have the opportunity to do that.
You could think of your real estate career as a mission. A mission to help create wealth for people who have never seen it.
Yes, that’s harder than helping people who easily can buy a house; but if it was easy for everyone to buy a house, then we’d be out of job.
So, seek out those challenges. Seek out people who truly want to become homeowners and truly need your help to make that happen.
Make it your mission to create possibility where maybe no possibility existed before. Do that for others and you’ll get it in your own life too.
I’ll do my best to help you do that every way I know how.
Here are a few ways I can think of right now to start:
1.) Support Anti-Redlining Initiatives Like Inclusionary Zoning. Be an advocate, activist and ally when it comes to inclusionary zoning units in your community.
2.). Take on one or two pro bono real estate transactions per year to help someone who wants to purchase an affordable dwelling unit. Many times, there is no budget for a real estate agent to be involved in these types of transactions, but be involved anyway and represent a buyer who must go through these oftentimes complicated programs to become a homeowner and do it pro bono. Walk them through the steps, help guide them and show them what’s possible as you would another client, but do it pro bono. You could be changing the wealth trajectory of an entire family and generations to come.
3.) Lower Your Commission to Help A Non-Profit Sell Affordable Dwelling Units. Outside of government agencies that have inclusionary zoning or affordable dwelling units, there are nonprofit organizations that create affordable housing that you could also help.
You can find nonprofit organizations in your community that are helping to make homeownership an opportunity for everyone, and reach out to see how you can work with them.
One in particular I worked with is called City First Homes. This is a nonprofit organization that creates and preserves quality housing that remains affordable for generations through land trusts.
I worked closely with this organization for years in many ways—giving seminars, served on steering committees, but I also represented them as their agent and sold their properties for a reduced commission. I felt like it was just another way I could help them achieve their mission, one I strongly believed in as well.
These suggestions are just a beginning.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are and what more we could all do to change the racism that still exists in the real estate industry and how we can consciously build successful, non-racist real estate businesses.
This is a long-standing conversation that I hope we can continue to discuss and make progress on together.
I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, insights and recommendations.
To your success,
P.S. Want to learn more about this topic and what you can do in your own business to be anti-racist? Check out our follow-up episode called What Every Agent Can Do To Address Racism in the Real Estate Industry.
Agent Grad School is the best online business school for modern real estate agents. We teach a proven system to have a successful real estate career using smart, unconventional strategies and modern marketing methods to attract clients.
about your instructor
Hi, I'm Jennifer!
I'm a real estate agent, creator of Agent Grad School and host of the podcast Confessions of A Top Producing Real Estate Agent. I teach real estate agents the exact steps I used to become one of the top 1% of agents in the US using online marketing and modern, out-of-the-box business strategies.