Beyond Intent: Why We Get This Wrong About Unfair Housing And What to Do About It

As featured in Inman News.
How unfair housing feels: upside down. Image by Leopictures from Pixabay

Between social media comments and the classes I teach, I keep running across people – more specifically, those of us who should be the most well-versed, the real estate professionals – who see unfair housing as only an intent issue. They believe that people must be “targeted” for it to count.

Perhaps you do, too, so let’s review this important aspect.

Image Caption: I appreciate fair housing questions and comments via social media, especially from real estate professionals, because if we don’t understand it, how can we possibly help our neighbors? I went on to explain to this engaged commenter (as in this article) that in addition to “targeted” intent, disparate impact is also a factor. In short, when our neighbors believe they are experiencing unfair housing, it is not our job to deny their experiences but rather give them the resources to report it, as there may be more than meets the eye.

Yes, there have been real estate professionals in the last three years (forget going back decades ago) who boldly proclaim their disdain for others like this and this as just two unfortunate examples. In those instances, intent drips through their blatant word choices.

But do you know the second consideration in determining unfair housing? Impact. 

Housing policies and practices that seem fair on the surface (without malicious intent) may actually cause harm disproportionately to a protected class of people (keeping in mind that protected classes expand from time to time at the federal or local levels so think beyond the “big 7”). We also call this an adverse impact. In short, everyone should have a fair shot at the American dream of homeownership and when there are practices or policies that stand in the way, even if unintentional, something has got to give. 

Without getting into the legalese, the disparate impact rule “codified long-standing case law” in 2013 (with changes made in 2020 but reverted back to the 2013 version earlier this year). In essence, case law (dating back to The Civil Rights Movement) has indeed set a legal precedent and supported unfair housing being determined by both intent or disparate impact. Furthermore, this has been an official rule for approximately a decade (despite recent modifications) – I’ll repeat: a decade. Nevertheless, like the commenter above, this is often what I hear real estate pros get wrong. 

And, if we, as the professionals who do this for a living, don’t understand the intricacies of fair housing, how can we possibly help our neighbors? How can they possibly have confidence in our profession?

Let's start with committing to Be a Fair Housing D.E.C.O.D.E.R.© (which is an acronym for what I call fair housing advocacy) when it comes to disparate impact, starting with the three following ways:

  1. Encourage self-audits: The second “d” in Fair Housing DECODER© stands for “‘Debbie Downer’ Assessor,” which encourages us, before violating fair housing (or lending), to do a self-assessment. Check out these two Canadian banks that have pledged to self-audit going forward. That is a powerful starting point! Here in the states, our teams, companies and associations can elect to self-audit by partnering with national (like the NCRC and NFHA) and local fair housing and lending agencies. What this does is flip and reverse the all too common adage to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.”

  2. Encourage local and state legislative support: The “c” in Fair Housing DECODER© stands for "Community Supporter", which encourages us as real estate pros to do what we do best: be our hometown homeownership champion. Plus, with REALTORS® being thee largest lobbying spending group around, there is no reason that states like Missouri should be able to interfere with fair housing (in this instance, since 2017) and hinder much-needed national funding. Plus, in the face of a tarnished reputation and brand, fair housing legislation (both the upholding and expansion) can be the A1 mission to begin to rebuild trust as genuine “Community Supporters.”

  3. Make fair housing part of your regular content: The “r” in Fair Housing DECODER© stands for “Reporter.” As real estate pros, we are well acquainted with wearing many hats, from unofficial construction contractors to negotiators to even pop-psychologists, and many of us fill the role of reporter well. As we enter 2024, I challenge you to include at least one post, blog, or video each week about fair housing (by the end of 2024, you will have started at least 52 conversations, nice!). What can you share? There are expansions to fair housing laws, it seems each year like this, which are great to discuss. There are violations that can be pointed out like this. And, of course, we can discuss and define terms to normalize them like this.

Community comment from a post using a metaphor to help explain “redlining”. Google is good, but it’s better when we as real estate pros are the trusted sources.

Beyond intent: "I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others." --Coretta Scott King

Learn more about fair housing proactiveness in the complimentary Cliff Notes-esque study guide download, Be a Fair Housing DECODER©.

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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