Fifty years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, Harrison Beacher reflects on how the civil rights leader influenced his view of real estate, and opportunity in general.
“Following housing laws is what you should do to be a good human but also to run a good business,” says the metro Washington, D.C. Keller Williams agent and member of REALTOR® Magazine’s 30 Under 30 class of 2016.
King’s assassination prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to urge Congress to pass an act on fair housing. On April 11, 1968, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 became law. More commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, the law banned housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Over the years, three other protected classes have been added: sex, disability, and familial status.
Fair housing is more than a recitation of classes or a list of do’s and don’ts, says Sherri Meadows, broker and owner of The Meadows Team in North Florida. “Fair housing is about basic human rights. Housing is essential for everyone, and REALTORS® are on the frontlines for consumers.”
The longtime Florida and national real estate leader is running for National Association of REALTORS® 2019 first vice president. “Fair housing is good for our communities, and REALTORS® stand with our communities,” Meadows says.
The Real Estate Industry Embraces Fair Housing for All
It’s hard to believe, but the National Association of REALTORS® initially opposed passage of the Fair Housing Act. The association later changed its perspective and began embracing fair housing for all in the 1970s.
Today, REALTORS® across the country are celebrating the Fair Housing Act’s 50th anniversary. Gail Hartnett, Keller Williams Realty Boise, is vice chair of the NAR Fair Housing Act 50th Anniversary Commemoration Implementation Group. Hartnett says the group’s message remains clear:
“Fair housing is not just about the transaction. Our livelihood and business as REALTORS® depends on a free, open market that embraces equal opportunity,” she says.
“We are taking a leadership role in identifying and addressing those issues that impact a free and open market, whether it is school quality, access to healthy communities or economic opportunity. These issues not only impact the choices of home buyers and renters, they make it harder in some communities to be a successful REALTOR®.”
NAR supports the seven protected classes as well as two others: it added sexual orientation to its Code of Ethics in 2011 and gender identity in 2013. That was two years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land.
The ruling brought about more change than an increase in marriage ceremonies: it brought about an increase in the desire among the LGBT community to become first-time homeowners or move-up buyers. Those are among the findings of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals’ “LGBT Real Estate Report 2017.” Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have added both sexual orientation and gender identity to fair housing laws; another 28 include one or the other.
In addition, Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics prohibits REALTORS® from discriminating against, denying equal professional services to or being part of any plan or agreement to discriminate against any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Kacy Bell, operating principal at Keller Williams Greater Des Moines and KW MAPS Leadership Coach, has trained hundreds of agents on the Fair Housing Act and fair housing practices. “The greatest achievement of the Fair Housing Act is to bring awareness to stereotypes and to aid agents in a greater understanding of how they can best perform for all consumers,” she says.
“The biggest opportunity we have is to continue to evolve our training and messaging to agents, so as to continue to provide the best service to all those who desire the American Dream – homeownership.”