Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Motivation Behind Illinois’s Fair Housing Documentary

Historical Document

When Matt Difanis, President of Illinois REALTORS® attended REALTOR® training at the beginning of his career he didn’t expect his education on Illinois’s fair housing history to be a wake up call. “I viewed the Fair Housing Act as an integral part of the fight for civil rights in the 60’s. But I also saw it as a part of our history that was more past than present.”

Difanis, known today as one of Illinois’s dedicated fair housing advocates, explains that, 19 years into his real estate career, discovering the story of African American real estate broker Frank J. Williams made him realize that the fight for fair housing was very much a part of his lifetime and there was still quite a bit of work to be done.

When Williams opened his own real estate office at 90th and Ashland in 1971, he was met with violent opposition once he began to sell homes in white, Chicago neighborhoods. “We started to get listings, make deals and the community organizations attacked us that first year. Breaking office windows, demonstrating in front of the office. They’d call and jam our telephones all day long. ‘Stop selling in our neighborhood. Click”.


Difanis knew that Williams had to be a part of the mini-documentary that his organization was producing titled, Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger. “We wanted this video to give an unvarnished history of fair housing in Illinois. William’s story brought the struggle many African Americans were up against to life. It was essential he be part of it.”

Other contributors include Courtney Q. Jones, President of Chicago’s Dearborn Realtist Board, an organization founded in 1941, some twenty years before blacks were allowed to join Chicago’s white-only, real estate trade organization. In the video, Jones talks about a time in the 1960s when black real estate professionals were not allowed to join realtor trade organizations.

Loretta Alonzo-Duebel, a former Illinois REALTORS® President, also appears.  Alonzo-Duebel was the organization’s first and only minority president to date, as well as one of the few females to hold this position. She talks about being met with confusion when she told people that she had purchased a home in Berwyn. “There’s no Mexicans in Berwyn” remarked one person. “I don’t care.” said Alonzo-Duebel.

Another contributor was Vicky Silvano, a REALTOR® from Chicago and the 2016 President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America. Silvano talks about the subtle discrimination that women, minority women in particular, experience when purchasing a home. She shares a first-hand experience where a woman alone was shown less available housing than when she was with her husband.

The video was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act in 2018. In addition to sharing the experiences of minority REALTORS and homeowners the video also includes snapshots of newspaper articles and campaign material produced before the Fair Housing Act was passed. Many with headlines referring to the Fair Housing Act as an affront to property owners with headlines like, “This Is Forced Occupancy Legislation”.

“Anyone who lives, or has lived in Illinois should take a few minutes out of their day to watch the video. It does a great job of capturing what was going on it our state, and the city of Chicago, at an important time in history.” says Difanis. “I hope it will help to keep the conversations about fair housing going as we move forward.”

Detroit-area REALTORS Invest in Community Spaces

Placemaking

Metro Detroit Area REALTORS®  Invest in ‘Placemaking’

When it comes to buying a home, there are a lot of decisions that go into a purchase.

Of course, the physical property itself is probably the most important detail, but it’s often the final one.

Homebuyers often consider cities, towns or neighborhoods based on many other factors such as schools, taxes, safety and quality of life.

Some REALTORS® in Michigan are trying to help improve the latter, to build up their communities, attract new residents and visitors, bring life to downtown areas, preserve open and green spaces and support walkable communities.

The Greater Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (GMAR), an association that includes metropolitan Detroit and the surrounding suburban communities, offers placemaking grants to help provide some financial support to members and local governments to help plan, design and manage public spaces by capitalizing on the community’s assets, inspiration and potential.

“I think placemaking is a bit underreported,” said James Iodice, President of GMAR Board of Directors. “For us there’s a natural relationship there. As communities become more attractive home values increase, which benefits everyone.”

GMAR accepts applications for grants from their own members, local governments or other civic organizations to partner with GMAR to make these quality of life improvements.

In 2017, GMAR gave out grants to eight projects in eight different cities within their area.

For example, they gave $5,000 to RE/MAX Classic REALTOR® Pat Rice and Wayne Main Streets in Wayne, Mich. to increase foot traffic in the downtown area by activating an alley as an attractive place for the community to gather.

The grant money will go toward festooned lighting, seating and to purchase and install a bike rack.

Additionally, the GMAR Board will support an effort to obtain additional placemaking grants from Michigan REALTORS® as well as the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to go toward this project.

“We invested $15,000 in 2017,” Iodice said. “And we are going to invest even more than that in 2018.”

“We promote it locally because there’s a natural interest in grant dollars, so it has an organic approach to it too, which is kind of cool.”

Additional projects include:

  • A grant of $3,500 in Ferndale to install a permanent fence around the perimeter of the Good Neighbors Garden, a community garden that provides fresh vegetables to the members of the community.
  • A $3,500 grant to the city of Algonac to fund a pet-friendly water fountain in the center of a dog park included as part of a larger community park project that is being built by a partnership with the City and the Algonac Lions Club.
  • Providing a grant in the amount of $2,500 as part of Detroit’s Brightmoor Initiative. The money will go toward the remodeling of a house that will serve as a tool shed and store front for a community garden that provides free fruit to its neighbors.
  • An approved grant of $2,500 to Starlite Properties and the City of Southfield to restore a damaged piece of art that was purchased from the Northland Mall Art collection. Some of the funds are also being earmarked for installation costs for a recently improved walking path.
  • In Melvindale, the city received a substantial donation from Marathon to rehabilitate and reopen its community pool. A GMAR placemaking grant of $1,000 would go directly toward the purchase of bike racks at the pool and to replace broken playground equipment at the neighboring park.

There were two additional projects that Iodice highlighted as exciting initiatives that GMAR is thrilled to be able to help fund with a placemaking grant.

“We are working with [Lynn Ketelhut of Park Avenue Realty] and the Allen Park Citizens Civic Fund to help install ‘little libraries’ in all 22 of the city’s public parks,” Iodice said.

The Allen Park Citizens Civic Fund teamed up with the City and Allen Park High School to install these libraries. The GMAR grant of $850 will cover expenses while high school students will build the libraries, the city will install them, and the Civic Fund volunteers will maintain them.

“We also have a park in a hot neighborhood – called REALTOR® Park – in Royal Oak,” Iodice said. “We want to leverage all three of our grant avenues there as well (Michigan REALTORS® and NAR).”

The GMAR grant in Royal Oak was $1,000 and is covering expenses to clean up the park, replace the mulch and install two little libraries.

A History of Fair Housing in Illinois

Chicago Tribune  

When President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the nation after signing the Fair Housing Act in 1968 he stated that, “Fair housing for all, all human beings who live in this country, is now a part of the American way of life.” The act, while a pivotal part of the civil rights movement, was not an immediate catalyst for change for many states, including Illinois.

There were several reasons why the act didn’t carry the impact Johnson hoped it would. Courtney Q. Jones, President of Chicago’s Dearborn Realtist Board (Realtist) sums up what he believes to be a significant one, “A law made does not always equal a law enforced.”

In short, the new act lacked teeth.

It wasn’t until 1988, a full twenty years after the act was passed, that penalties for violating the housing act were put into place. When congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act it transferred control of the fair housing law into the hands of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This change meant that anyone who refused to rent or sell to specific minorities or ethnicities would take a financial hit. In fact, as of August 2016 civil penalties were significantly increased.

Chicago, in particular, was slow to see transformation in the years after the initial Fair Housing Act was put into place. There had already been a long history of redlining and real estate contracts with racially restrictive covenants or agreements that divided the city.

The segregation of Chicago began after World War I during what was known as “the Great Migration”. Thousands of African Americans headed north in search of work and a place to call home. The Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB) responded to the population boom by setting up a Special Committee on Negro Housing in 1917.

CREB’s “solution” was to map out the city block by block for Chicago land owners, stating which areas would accept African American residents and which would be off-limits. This type of discriminatory real estate contract was upheld in the 1926 Supreme Court case Corrigan v. Buckley which allowed white property owners to prevent their land from being sold to “non-whites”

The “redlining” conducted in the 1930s supported the continuing division of Chicago neighborhoods. The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) was formed by the federal government and given the task of stabilizing housing markets across the country. One of the ways that HOLC did this was by producing “security maps” for cities like Chicago that would help banks to understand which areas were considered “bad investments”. The intent was to avoid the rampant foreclosures banks experienced during the Great Depression. However, a “bad investment” was equated with any non-white neighborhood.

Many believe that HOLC’s redline maps were the reason Chicago’s neighborhoods are still racially segregated today. A working report called “The Effects of the 1930’s HOLC ‘Redlining’ Maps” discovered that neighborhoods that were given a lower grade on the map experienced “a marked increase in racial segregation.” They also found a long running decline in homeownership, housing values and credit scores occurred in Chicago neighborhoods that were redlined.

This housing discrimination was supported by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), known at the time as the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB), whose code of ethics stated from 1924 to 1950 that “A REALTOR®  should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood….members of any race or nationality or any individual whose presence would be clearly detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

In 1948, the Supreme Court at last ruled against racially restrictive covenants in the case of Shelley vs. Kraemer. As a result, NAREB revised their code of ethics so that it no longer endorsed racially discriminate selling practices.

However, business proceeded as usual and the ruling did little to head off “The White Flight” Chicago would soon experience. An NBC article, “White Flight By The Numbers” noted that “From 1960 to 1980, Englewood’s white population “plummeted from 51,583 to 818,” according to the Chicago Reporter’s history of the neighborhood. Not even ethnic cleansing in the Balkans achieved the levels of turnover that white flight in Chicago did.”

The Federal Housing Administration supported the white islands of Illinois by subsidizing the building of new subdivisions outside city limits. Subdivisions, whose homes would only be funded if the developers would agree not to sell any of the homes to African Americans. Richard Rothstein, author of the book “The Color Of Law: A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America” explains how they pulled this off during an interview with NPR.

“It was a federal requirement that they (the developers) get these bank loans only on condition that they not sell to African Americans. And the Federal Housing Administration required that deeds in these homes have what we now refer to as restrictive covenants, prohibitions on resale to African Americans”.

Blockbusting” was another tactic that originated in Chicago around this time. It perpetuated the “white flight” and took advantage of African American homebuyers. Unscrupulous real estate agents would incite fear in white neighborhoods by staging scenarios that made it appear as though the neighborhood had “turned”.

Many white homeowners responded to blockbusting fear tactics and sold their properties at a very low rate. The properties were quickly turned around and resold them to African American buyers at inflated prices. Additionally, because the FHA would not subsidize loans for African Americans they were forced to buy these overpriced homes with unfair contract loans.

Ultimately, African American homeowner organizations like the Contract Buyers League were formed to protest the exploitive sale of homes to blacks through contract selling.

Beryl Satter, author of the book, “Family Properties” speaks about the negative financial impact contract selling had on Chicago’s African American community in a Chicago Tribune interview. “In Chicago, my father estimated that 85 percent of the properties purchased by blacks were sold on contract,” Satter shares. “He calculated that by selling buildings to housing-starved African Americans on such exploitative terms, speculators were robbing Chicago’s black population of one million dollars a day.”

There was discrimination facing African Americans in the industry as well. In the 1960’s African American Real Estate Brokers in Chicago were not allowed to join the REALTORS® trade association. The response to this exclusion was to form the Chicago’s Dearborn Realtist Board (Realtist), an African American run real estate association that offered needed support and leadership.

President Jones shared, “There was no other organization picking up that fight for people of color. Black membership wasn’t welcomed nor allowed. It definitely bred a need to birth an organization that would fight for people of color.”

African American Real Estate Brokers in the early 1970s, like Frank J. Williams, found that trouble began when they sold homes in white neighborhoods. “We started to get listings, make deals and the community organizations attacked us that first year. Breaking office windows, demonstrating in front of the office. They’d call and jam our telephones all day long. ‘Stop selling in our neighborhood.”

In a video produced by the Illinois Association of REALTORS® (IAR) called, “Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger” Williams reminds us that the goal for fair housing has not changed, “We all want the same thing. We want a nice place for our children to grow up. It’s not just a house. It’s a community. That there are good schools. There’s safety. There’s police protection. Folks take care of their property as best they can.”

When the Fair Housing Act Amendment of 1988 empowered HUD to enforce violations of the act, real turnaround began to happen. But Illinois’s housing industry still struggles with discrimination on many levels today. A February 2018 article by the Chicago Tribune called, “Modern-day redlining: How banks block people of color from homeownership” talks about existing loan discrimination.

Among other things, the article brought to light that the current credit score model home lenders rely on is weighted against the minority homeowner. “(Credit scoring) does not take into account consumer data on rent, utility, and cellphone bill payments,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wrote in August, when he unveiled a bill to require the federal government to vet credit standards used for residential mortgages. “This exclusion disproportionately hurts African-Americans, Latinos, and young people who are otherwise creditworthy.”

Matt Diffanis, President of the Illinois REALTORS® Association, believes that Illinois needs to continue to take an honest look at it’s past in order to move forward. “We still have work to do. A large part of this work is to keep talking about Illinois’s role in the history of fair housing . The good, the bad, the ugly. We were on the wrong side of history for a time, and it’s important that we talk about that as well as talk about the future we’re fighting for.”

Zeke Morris, Chair, Fair Housing Anniversary Task Force for NAR also hopes that the conversations we’re having today about fair housing continue, even the ones that might make Illinois residents uncomfortable. “Be a little uncomfortable. If we’re gonna grow, you have to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. If we can do that, we can all move to a different level.”

New York REALTORS Demonstrate Commitment To Fair Housing Awareness

melting pot
While melting pots of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity exist all across the country, there may be no bigger pot than New York.

New York State Association of REALTORS® (NYSAR) President Christine “C.J.” DelVecchio opened her President’s Message in the March/April edition of New York State REALTOR® magazine with six capitalized words:

EQUAL AND ETHICAL SERVICE TO ALL.

It’s part of the REALTOR® credo, their unofficial oath, but an important obligation that they feel they owe to clients and customers.

In fact, it’s on this very foundation on which the Fair Housing Act was built when it was signed into law 50 years ago.

And while melting pots of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity exist all across the country, there may be no bigger pot than New York.

With the largest city in the country serving as the gateway to America from the East, as well as a border with Canada that welcomes thousands from other countries, New York is the epitome of those who are pursuing the American Dream of Home Ownership.


Which is why NYSAR has made a commitment to spreading continued awareness of Fair Housing.

It started with the dedication of the entire edition of the magazine to not only remind REALTORS® that it was Fair Housing month, but that the anniversary had arrived.

“New York’s REALTORS® work in diverse communities,” DelVecchio said. “Therefore, we have long supported the landmark Fair Housing Act, and have advocated for the inclusion of additional protected classes in New York State law.

“For example, our New York State laws include the protection of sexual orientation, military status, age and most recently, domestic violence victims, from housing discrimination.”

The magazine is filled with editorials written by REALTOR® fair housing partner organizations including the Asian Real Estate Association of America, National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, National Association of Real Estate Brokers and National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. These authors focused on the history of the Fair Housing Act from 1968 to today as well as offering their thoughts for the future.

A property rights timeline as well as a frequently asked questions section of the magazine offer additional details about fair housing as well as a section on potential fair housing violations that may not seem to be so on first glance.

It is a great resource for everyone, not just REALTORS®.

Additionally, NYSAR created nine unique videos featuring members of their association talking about the importance of fair housing in New York.


NYSAR then shared the videos with all of their members and encouraged them to re-share them on all of their media platforms – whether it be local association web sites, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, the goal was to get a lot of eyeballs to serve as a form of advocacy and education not just in the real estate community, but for their clients and consumers as well.

Fair Housing makes the US and New York stronger by encouraging buyers and sellers to live wherever they choose.Click To Tweet

“Fair Housing makes the US and New York stronger by encouraging buyers and sellers to live wherever they choose, regardless of anything other than financial ability,” DelVecchio said. “New York’s REALTORS® embrace their obligation to help buyers and sellers within these Fair Housing laws.

“After all, it’s the RIGHT thing to do.”