REALTOR®: We Must Strengthen Commitment to Housing Equality

May 8, 2019

Congress must develop stronger housing policies to alleviate racial disparities in homeownership, one REALTOR® argued in testimony to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “For many people in this country, homeownership is synonymous with the American dream, creating stable communities, increasing civic participation, and building our feelings of self-worth and self-esteem,” JoAnne Poole, vice chair of the REALTORS® Multicultural Real Estate Leadership Advisory Group, told the House Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance. “But if America is to remain a nation of homeowners, we must address the persistent barriers that minorities continue to face.”

REALTOR® JoAnne Poole testifies on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

© C-SPAN

REALTOR® JoAnne Poole testifies on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Poole, who has been a real estate professional in Baltimore for 33 years, highlighted the National Association of REALTORS®’ efforts to address racial trends in the housing market, particularly when it comes to minority homeownership. The African American and Hispanic homeownership rates of 41% and 47%, respectively, are well below the national average of 64.2%.

Poole was one of seven witnesses invited to testify at Wednesday's hearing, including National Association of Real Estate Brokers President Jeffrey Hicks. REALTORS® have partnered with NAREB as the group maintains a central and historic role highlighting the issues impacting minority homeownership in America. NAR, NAREB, and the Urban Institute recently held a roundtable focused on improving African American homeownership rates, developing a five-point framework that can be applied across all minority communities. The priorities include:

  1. Advancing local policy solutions.
  2. Tackling housing supply and affordability.
  3. Promoting equitable and accessible housing finance.
  4. Reaching out to mortgage-ready millennials and renters.
  5. Maintaining a focus on sustainable homeownership and preservation.

“Systemic barriers to increasing minority homeownership continue to exist, including the continued existence of predatory products that are targeted at racial minorities, policies that unnecessarily keep immigrants out of homeownership, and FHA policies that unfairly burden minority borrowers with additional costs,” the House Financial Services Committee says.

The road to housing equality has been long, and there have been setbacks along the way. Before the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, there were no uniform national policies preventing discrimination against racial minorities seeking homeownership. For much of the first half of the 20th century, neighborhood segregation was enabled through racially restrictive covenants, such as property deeds that prohibited racial minorities from purchasing homes in white residential neighborhoods.

Poole told the committee that NAR plans to continue promoting policies that aim to support housing equality. “NAR remains focused on closing racial homeownership gaps by encouraging local governments to adopt zoning laws, building codes, and other policies that encourage free-market production of entry-level homes and other affordable housing units,” she said.