3 Surprises That Still Influence Housing (Un)Affordability

Image by JALAL SHEIKH from Pixabay. 

In many parts of the nation, unaffordability is bringing the housing market to a stalemate. As real estate pros, we may not be able to directly alter interest rates (outside of our lobbying efforts) but we can impact how much money people have in their pockets in order to have the financial wherewithal to buy, sell and lease real estate. How? By being what I call Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.S.©, which is an acronym that in short stands for proactive housing advocacy for all – where we move beyond simply avoiding “hot water”.

3 Surprises of 2023 That Still Influence Housing (Un)Affordability and Should Be on Every Real Estate Pros Radar for 2024

“Redlining” is still happening

Did you know since just 2021, 10 lenders have settled “redlining” allegations, leading to over $107 Million in relief for “redlined” areas? What is worse is that there are currently over 20 open investigations. 

You may be wondering, “How can ‘redlining’ still be an issue when we have had laws on the books since the 1960s?” As I always share at the various REALTOR® conferences where I have been privileged to share, laws do not magically stop violations. There is no bibbidi-bobbidi-boo moment from a fairy godmother like in Cinderella. For those of us that are true crime podcast fans, we know murder is illegal but it happens… a lot. Similarly, fair housing and lending laws just mean that when there are violations, there may be a penalty and remedy of some sort. In other words, we have work to do!

How to be a Fair Housing DECODER©: The “O” in the acronym DECODER© stands for being an “Options Broker”. No, I am not referring to the NYSE but rather being a professional who is well-versed in the options available. How? Connect (subscribe to the complimentary newsletters, attend webinars and conferences, etc.) of non-profit organizations devoted to fair lending like the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (ncrc.org) and National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders (naahl.org). Take note of the lenders that support such efforts and update your preferred lender list accordingly. Also, take note of the lenders that have settlements and pending investigations – work with them cautiously and keep clients informed about their various investigations.

Middle-income homebuyers who qualify for downpayment funds don’t know it

A recent study found that close to 40% of those who do not own a home struggle to come up with the downpayment. To make matters work, many are not aware that downpayment assistance exists. In my own unofficial Instagram polls, I have found that although NAR has noted that student loan debt and health care costs account for almost a fifth of the issues “holding (potential) buyers back from saving (for) downpayment”, most (the public and professionals) are not aware of programs that help (including a test program by Blue Cross Blue Shield).

How to be a Fair Housing DECODER©: Make no mistake, the essence of fair housing hinges on affordability. Thus, every action we can collectively take to ensure housing is affordable for all, especially those that have been historically denied, is a step towards fair housing too. Surprisingly, the biggest misconception I hear among real estate professionals is that downpayment (and closing cost) assistance is only based on low income and it is not. Downpayment, as well as closing cost, assistance includes grants, forgivable loans, low/no interest loans or tax credits that can help cover (or completely pay for) the funds needed for one’s downpayment and/or closing costs for a myriad of reasons like moving to a particular state, holding a particular occupation or being part of a protected class that historically has been excluded

Being a Fair Housing DECODER© includes being a “Community Supporter” (which is the “C” in the acronym). Thus, we should know about each of the programs in our area and provide a list to every single client (note: a big tenet of fair housing is that we have the same process for everyone). 

For extra credit, I love that the California Association of REALTORS© went beyond offering a list of what is available (which they do) to offering their own assistance program. Creating our own local assistance programs support our communities in ways that every local association and realty office can likely offer in some capacity (c.f. Own It, which was created by a local realty firm in Wisconsin and is sponsored by individuals and firms alike). Let’s get after it!

Inaccuracies cloud the tenant screening process

It is no surprise that if tenants have a risky credit history, then landlords may request additional security deposits and higher monthly rents to mitigate risk. But what happens when tenants are unfairly deemed risky? The result is that tenants experience inflated rents, which reduces affordability, savings (like for a downpayment to buy a home) and access to essentials (e.g. medical, educational, etc.) predicated on disposable income. In 2023, it was surprising to learn that trusted credit companies like Transunion have been inaccurate in their scoring, contributing to increasing unaffordability in the rental markets. Other companies continue (after a 2019 report) to even mix up tenants based on having similar names and may consider sealed cases that have been expunged, meaning they should have no sway on housing decisions going forward.

How to be a Fair Housing DECODER©: The “R” in being a Fair Housing DECODER© stands for being a “Reporter”. Foremost, if you work with tenants, be sure to have fair housing news alerts set up (such as Google Alerts) to keep up with new developments. Keep a running list of companies that have reports about their inaccuracies and report to your clients (both landlords and tenants) those lists so that they can steer clear of such services until remedies have been made. 

The moral of the story

Fair housing is unfortunately not automatic and needs our commitment and advocacy. Join me in making this pledge as we start a new year:

Personal Commitment Pledge (excerpt from Fair Housing DECODER© – click here to download the complimentary ebook)

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 https://books.bookfunnel.com/learnwithdrlee

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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