How Global Events Jeopardize U.S. Fair Housing and What We, Real Estate Pros, Can Do About It

As featured in Inman News.

Did you know over the last one hundred and “fifty-ish” years (starting roughly with the first unofficial fair housing act, the Civil Rights Act of 1866), tensions outside of the U.S. have put U.S. fair housing in jeopardy for everyday people, not directly associated with any of those military tensions?

Picking just one of the many, a treacherous historical example is when many Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their homes. Many were not given enough time to sell owned real estate for the quintessential fair market value nor were they able to return after World War II to those homes that had been confiscated or squatted in. Sadly, those who maintained their American citizenship and allegiance lost everything.

“You only leave home when home won’t let you stay… I want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of the gun…” – Poet Warsan Shire

Unfortunately, it took approximately forty years for a formal apology by then-President Reagan with a small token of reparations, acknowledging that: “no payment can make up for those lost years… For here we admit a wrong: here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law”.

Flash forward to 2023, and we are witnessing some of our real estate colleagues and the communities they serve struggle in Florida regarding the new restrictions surrounding Chinese homeownership (which are still being challenged as a breach of fair housing).

Separately, just days ago, in a Chicago suburb, we saw the aftermath of a landlord allegedly screaming at his tenants – people who had placed trust in him for fair housing – about their religion (a protected fair housing class). Then, that landlord allegedly, gruesomely stabbed his tenant, a precious child, twenty-six times to death. Based on reports, that landlord has violated multiple laws but fair housing is the one that real estate pros can lean into the most.

6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume source:


There are more examples both from the annals of history (see these two complimentary ebooks for a primer) and also from this year but what is more important is our proactiveness beyond passively abiding by existing fair housing laws. That is what I call being a Fair Housing DECODER©, with DECODER being an acronym. 

Let’s get into the seven questions of the acronym that we can all ask when global – or any other – events begin to undermine fair housing:

D – “Dissed” Deactivator – Check in with impacted communities and ask what has rubbed them the wrong way. It may be obvious but giving others space to vent helps with emotional regulation and psychological safety. For example, has your realty office made a statement expressing that we unequivocally honor the right to fair housing for every religion, nationality, race, familial status, etc. (listing out every protected class, especially those that may be impacted in your area by global conditions). We can also check with our local fair housing councils and agencies to see what needs persist.

E – “Energy” Booster – Next, inquire about what needs to happen for those impacted to (re)gain the “warm fuzzies” or confidence in our real estate community. For example, perhaps homebuyer grants (based on Special Purpose Credit Programs, which allow protected classes to be targeted for aid, and the like) can be created for those who are underserved or even villainized based on recent global events. Or, landlord and/or home seller workshops can be offered to educate and form a supportive community on what fair housing looks like as various global events transpire (repetition and refreshers during intense political climates are good for the soul!).

C – Community Supporter – What can we do to better serve those currently being underserved or even unfairly ostracized in real estate in our community? One of the simplest things for those of us who are social media active is to create social media posts and videos that dispel myths about who does and who doesn’t qualify for fair housing.

O – “Options Broker” – What other options exist that remove UN-fair housing for those most impacted? For example, based on the tragedy in metro Chicago, real estate pros can curate and share lists of resources to help anyone who may need to move because of an aggressive, antagonistic, and harassing landlord. Interestingly, some of the DV shelters in your area may be willing to be a refuge if we ask and/or partner with them.

D – “Debbie Downer” Assessor – Does something still grind the gears of the underserved and/or unfairly ostracized in your community regarding housing? Here’s another opportunity to ask – we can never check in too much in regard to fair housing advocacy. To go further, we can partner with our local fair housing councils and agencies (e.g. host fundraisers, volunteer and notify them of suspected UN-fair housing), which use secret shoppers (they call them “testers”) to verify UN-fair housing. Here’s a modern example of a fair housing council using testers to uncover UN-fair housing.

E – Empathy Mirror – Many of us have not lived to be our “big ages” (as Gen Z calls it) without someone mistakenly characterizing our want for a peaceful existence as something nefarious. Case in point, some people instantly judge real estate agents as sleazy salespeople who will rob Peter and Paul to show off all their “ill-gotten gains” on social media. Others may go further with their preconceived notions and be downright hostile and dismissive to us (especially as we are cold calling and door knocking). To salvage our reputations, some of us may get curious and share parts of our lives and client testimonials to dismantle those negative troupes. Likewise, here is our opportunity to gently inquire and even show to potential and actual fair housing violators (perhaps through our seller workshops and social media videos), “If the roles were reversed, how would this make you feel?”.

Global tensions are not imagined nor should they be minimized – at the same time it is important to recognize that a specific neighbor, buyer, or tenant may be of a different religion, nationality, color, race, sexual orientation or any other protected class and not be a threat. 

R – Reporter – In addition to helping people file (and understand their right to file) fair housing violations with HUD and local agencies, we can take UN-fair housing issues to the “streets”. Social media gives us an amazing platform to make sure everyone, including underserved and/or unfairly ostracized community members, is heard. Personal stories (especially firsthand and eyewitness) can and have moved figurative mountains of stalled housing legislation (I mention that based on videos my team has personally captured that led to those personal experiences being picked up by a news outlet (ABC) and used during testimony on the Hill). Bonus points for tagging local and state representatives because they are more likely to respond (perhaps even get involved) than those at the federal level. Just be sure to vet any information!

Have you ever needed the “Cliff Notes” version of fair housing? Well, move over Spark Notes!

The Starting Point: How to Be a Fair Housing DECODER Guide

It is available to download for a limited time at no fee. Score!

This condensed workbook (based on the nationally acclaimed workshop) offers Dr. Lee's novel concept of being a Fair Housing DECODER© who skillfully and proactively advocates --not alienates-- for equitable access and opportunity in real estate for EVERYONE.

“Interesting approach on the topic of fair housing that I have not seen offered to Realtors.” --Maria, Broker/Owner, REALTOR® 

I have the Realtor GRI designation and they should make this part of that designation. This is THAT good. THANKS, Dr. Lee!” --Michael, Broker/Owner, REALTOR®

Hurry, download (and share with others) today while complimentary supplies last!

Sound off - I would love to hear from you!  Give me a shout on Instagram and YouTube. Or, get your "training on" with these on-demand classes.  Here's to your success! #LearnWithDrLee

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