By LINSEY STONCHUS
Despite the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the reality is that decades of harmful real estate practices and centuries of wealth inequalities have had lasting effects on the landscape of home ownership in the United States.
While 64.6 percent of Americans own a home, among Black Americans this figure drops to 42.1 percent, according the U.S. Census Bureau data for 2019. Homeownership, ultimately, is a sign of financial stability and is strongly linked to wealth, which makes this gap between U.S. whites and Blacks a gloomy status quo of the past.
“There’s a lot of unfortunate history in the real estate industry that has led to a lot of systemic racism and some of the problems that we’re facing, so we realized we had an opportunity to help change that moving forward, and we wanted to be a part of that,” said Julie Dey, chief marketing officer of Windermere Real Estate, a Seattle-based real estate brokerage that is part of the Luxury Portfolio International network.
As a result, earlier in 2021, Windermere created an example in the industry through its internal educational efforts and “Aspire” internship program with the University of Washington.
“More inclusivity in the real estate workforce helps us connect with more clients to help them find homes,” Ms. Dey said.
“If we can create opportunities for a more diverse talent pool in our company, then we can build an inclusive culture that compels people to stay and thrive,” she said.
Entering the workforce
The wakeup call for Windermere, like many others in the country, was the tragic death of George Floyd in the spring of 2020. This dark event signified that systemic racism is still an unfortunate reality in the U.S.
“Historically, we’ve been very quiet publicly on the issues of social justice, thinking that we didn’t want to get into the fray of politics, but the more soul searching that we did the more we realized that social justice and real estate are so intimately related,” Ms. Dey said.
One such effort has been its “Aspire” internship program with the University of Washington’s School of Built Environments, which offers programs in real estate, urban planning and architecture.
“Our hope out of this is that we are connecting students with the idea of real estate, but also providing some opportunities through scholarship dollars and education to attract them into the real estate industry so that we can have not only a younger set of real estate agents coming into the field, which is a universal problem, I think, among a lot of real estate agencies, but also creating interest amongst BIPOC students so that we have a more diverse industry in general,” Ms. Dey said.
During the program, students visit both local franchise offices as well as headquarters to learn a broad range of topics, including “how to run the business from a franchise owner’s perspective, what the day-to-day of the managing broker is like and the back-office activities around marketing and finance,” Ms. Dey said.
Education, however, is not limited to newbies.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into educating ourselves, not only on history and how did we get to be where we are, but how do we be better?” Ms. Dey said.
“That’s everything from learning more about fair housing laws to thinking about the language that we use when we’re writing a listing description and making sure we’re not creating implicit or explicit bias through some of the actions that do have unintentional consequences, like steering,” she said.
Steering, according to the National Association of REALTORS (NAR), “is the practice of influencing a buyer’s choice of communities based upon one of the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act, which are race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin.”
Accordingly, avoiding steering is as much an issue of legality as it is morality.
Certain language, too, may be harmful when considering the origins of a term. “Master bedrooms,” for example, should instead be called a “primary bedroom.”
It is not limited to race. It is also important to be mindful of gender-neutral language. Replace “his and hers” or “Mr. and Mrs.” with the vocabulary “dual” to describe amenities.
WINDERMERE HAS INVESTED a great deal of effort and money into widespread education and professional development on behalf of the BIPOC community. Its approach does not shy away from the previous problems of the real estate industry – it seeks to remedy them.
In employing a more inclusive workforce, the homebuying experience will certainly improve for its diverse pool of buyers.
“The diversity of our agent population will help us attract new clients who may not previously have had access to home ownership or felt represented well in the home buying process,” Ms. Dey said.
“The Windermere team repeatedly asks themselves, ‘What can we do to help facilitate progress in the real estate industry right now?'” she said.
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