When Fair Housing Hits Home

April 1, 2001

Not long after my husband and I moved into our first home, nearly three years ago, we found a watermelon smashed in the street by the end of our driveway. It was summer, so we reasoned that it could have rolled off the back of a truck on the way home from the grocery.

We also considered--albeit with some disbelief--that perhaps, just maybe, some people in our lovely, middle-class, mostly white neighborhood were telling us they didn’t like that we, an interracial couple, had moved in.

For a couple of days after the incident, my husband and I pondered whether the watermelon was a racist taunt or a casual accident. And while we pondered, we let the fruit lie there in the street. We felt, somehow, that if we swept it up too quickly, we’d be acknowledging that it did, in fact, carry a message for us.

Of course, sometimes street debris is just that. Truth is, our neighbors have always made us feel very much a welcome addition to the community. We’ll never know what that watermelon meant, if anything.

I share this story because April is Fair Housing Month. And as I was thinking about what the fair housing law means--to you, to your business, and to organized real estate--I realized with a jolt that the law has a personal meaning for me. Were it not for the protections of the fair housing law (that no one can be denied housing on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, familial status, or handicap), it’s possible that my husband and I might not be living in the tree-shaded, tranquil community we love, in a house we’ve joyfully, carefully warmed into our home.

Of course, the fair housing law has always seemed like a good idea to me for reasons of social conscience. But I’ve viewed it in a detached way as something that exists to protect “other” people.

That’s partly because neither my husband nor I look for racism around every corner. We don’t define ourselves by our skin colors, and our general expectation is that others won’t, either.

So in this month that celebrates homeownership (April also hosts American Home Week, April 22-28), I encourage you to think about what the fair housing law means, not in terms of rules and regulations written more than 30 years ago in Washington, D.C., but in terms of its effect on the lives of real people in your community. Make it “personal” for you, too.

Pamela Geurds Kabati is the former publisher of REALTOR® Magazine and senior vice president of communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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