Real (Estate) Talk: Making Fair Housing a Piece of (Carrot) Cake

As featured in my monthly Inman News column on race and real estate.  

Fair housing doesn't have to be about violations, shame and punishment. Here are a few ways to use positive reinforcement, like awards, to create a renewed sense of celebration as well as better outcomes all around.

What 50+ Years Have Shown Us

After over 50 years of fair housing and lending laws, I realize one thing is true -- it is not intuitive.

In just the last year despite laws barring these things, there have been various, continued reports that have found:
5. Denial of promised and equitable benefits, services and funding

To just name a few.

With renewed attention, there have been efforts to increase fair housing and lending training as well as improve the discovery of violations through increased testing and penalties for confirmed violators. 

Unfortunately, some real estate pros are sounding off that greater fair housing and lending accountability, will "lead appraisers and lenders to avoid making loans to minority borrowers". 

That's a shame. 

But it speaks to how this is not intuitive for everyone and may even be seen as a hassle by some. In essence, external enforcement (even for a needed topic like fair housing laws) often feels like the "stick" -- a (de)motivational approach -- as coined by philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

But there is a way to solve or at least assuage the "burden" of additional, external oversight and accountability -- self-monitoring using the "carrot" (I like to call it the "carrot cake" yum) motivational approach. In other words, we can create a paradigm and cultural shift when we publicly and consistently praise those that take a personal sense of ownership when it comes to fair housing and lending.

How So?

As our companies and associations prepare for awards season (many of you are now planning for next year), let's begin self-monitoring (monitoring in-house) with accolades that track:

Highest rated fair housing and lending advocate (for those on your team; this can be parsed out for managers, agents, brokers, and other staff)

Most improved fair housing and lending advocate (it's important that even if someone on your team has a fair housing or lending complaint, there is a chance for redemption and growth)

Highest rated fair housing and lending partner (for our vendors)

Coach's sidebar: Real talk, there are various initiatives that conscientious vendors (advocates for fair housing and lending) should have on their radar and our awards can act as accountability. For example, our mortgage and/or appraiser partners should champion the Appraiser Diversity Initiative with The Appraisal Institute, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the National Urban League. One company -- Better -- has pledged to "empower the next generation of appraisers by helping you overcome requirement barriers related to education, training, and experience." Check out this video to see how you and your partners can do the same.

Did You Know?

Back in April 1969, which was the one-year anniversary of the hard-fought passage of the federal fair housing act, there was a huge celebration. 

"When April 1969 arrived, HUD could not wait to celebrate the Act's 1st Anniversary. In truly festive fashion, HUD hosted a gala event in the Grand Ballroom of New York's Plaza Hotel. From across the nation, advocates and politicians shared in this marvelous evening, including one of the organizations that started it all -- the National Committee Against Discrimination In Housing. In subsequent years, the tradition of celebrating Fair Housing Month grew larger and larger. Governors began to issue proclamations that designated April as "Fair Housing Month," and schools across the country sponsored poster and essay contests that focused upon fair housing issues. Regional winners from these contests often enjoyed trips to Washington, DC for events with HUD and their Congressional representatives. Under former Secretaries James T. Lynn and Carla Hills, with the cooperation of the National Association of Homebuilders, National Association of Realtors, and the American Advertising Council these groups adopted fair housing as their theme and provided "free" billboard space throughout the nation. These large 20-foot by 14-foot billboards placed the fair housing message in neighborhoods, industrial centers, agrarian regions and urban cores. Every region also had its own celebrations, meetings, dinners, contests and radio-television shows that featured HUD, state and private fair housing experts and officials. These celebrations continue the spirit behind the original passage of the Act, and are remembered fondly by those who were there from the beginning." (Source:

Did you catch that part at the end, signifying the end of the party phase, which stated, "are remembered fondly by those who were there from the beginning"? It seems we have lost the celebratory party and awards aspect of Fair Housing Month, which helps to put the "I" (a sense of personal responsibility) into fair housing and lending.

Let's bring back the fair housing-specific party and add specific awards that actually name fair housing and lending advocacy in the award title for our teams, firms and associations. That's a different type of accountability that likely creates hope, anticipation and enjoyment.

What other fair housing and lending award categories can you think of that can become part of your culture?

The Carrot Cake Approach

Award season for many is already an anticipated time of year. These additions will hopefully create a team, company or association culture that generates new excitement and voluntary engagement, putting the "I" in fair housing and lending.

In this vein, some of our companies and/or teams already seek ratings and reviews for transactions (coach's sidebar: if you're not doing this, it's a great way to improve your business by turning critics into coaches as well as testimonials can become fee-free marketing). Thus, we can easily add a few lines that allow clients to weigh in on their experiences like:

How fairly was I treated throughout this entire transaction? Select 1- 5, with 5 being the highest and most enjoyable experience.  

Please explain.

From there, let's add to our systems, at the bare minimum, a substantive, personalized response (ideally within 1 business day) to all feedback with a commitment to investigate any complaints of unfair treatment and a minimum requirement for additional coursework by the offending agent/staff/vendor to continue with our team. 

Just Imagine

Just imagine what it would mean to clients to know that they are heard and that at the minimum, the pros they have interacted with that represent your brand are at least committed to educating themselves on how to do better. 

I think we would see more raving fans and a lesser need for external "sticks".

Sound off - I would love to hear from you!  Give me a shout on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, or by visiting  

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