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Old-Money Suburb Takes On The Fight For Fair Housing

From posters to making it a part of school curriculums; how Grosse Pointe became a leading fair housing advocate.

By Anthony SanFilippo

Fair Housing - Holding Hands

At first blush, Grosse Pointe, Michigan may appear to be the same kind of big city suburb that has been depicted on television screens: Well-manicured lawns. White picket fences. Nuclear families.

But look a little closer and you will find that included in this small, wealthy community, made up of 93% Caucasian residents, is one of the most active advocates of fair housing and diversity in America.

That isn’t a typo.

Meet the Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® (GPBR) who believe fair housing is not just an occasional advocacy campaign, but rather an internalized, everyday way of thinking.

“Grosse Pointe is an affluent, somewhat urban suburb of old money that for many years had embraced old school thinking,” said Bob Taylor, executive officer for GPBR. “But that’s changing. We are a community becoming more integrated over time, and we want to be sure we are accepting of anyone who wants to own or rent a home.”

Taylor, who has been a REALTOR® for 40 years, and is a past Regional Vice President for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), past President of both the Michigan Association of REALTORS® and past local association president (but not the GPBR), said the efforts are being led by GPBR’s exceptionally engaged and focused Fair Housing and Diversity Committee.

“We wanted to change the focus,” Taylor said. “We used to have Fair Housing Month every April, but why is this something we should only think about one month out of the year? We should be thinking about it every day.”

This is why GPBR is a glowing example of REALTORS® who aren’t just commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, but who are trying to live it every day.

“We want to make sure we are putting ourselves in the right position for the next 50 years,” Taylor said.

And it’s not just race-centric, although, that is a big part of it. But it also includes people with disabilities, alternate lifestyles, and even families with small children – something that some residents of more upscale neighborhoods may have quietly frowned upon in the past.

It’s a path of progression that Taylor wasn’t sure was in place in Grosse Pointe on an organized level, as recently as five years ago. Even Taylor himself admits that it wasn’t something he was focused on until a decade ago.

“The more I felt like I wasn’t part of problem, the more difficult it became for me to understand issues minorities face,” Taylor said. “A light finally clicked 10 years ago. This isn’t something that’s like picking up a book and putting it down or turning on a TV show and then turning it off. It was in my head all the time.”

Refusing to accept bigotry, racism or any labeling is far more than that. It has to be part of who you are 24 hours a day, seven days a week.Click To Tweet

So, in 2014 when Taylor became executive officer, the GPBR Fair Housing and Diversity Committee, chaired by Ursel Mayo, started to look at fair housing differently.

Instead of focusing on fair housing one month out of the year and then forgetting about it the next 11 months, they decided to incorporate a more targeted focus with every outreach.

It started with simple things – like having a fair housing component at each of the quarterly membership meetings.

Then the Association acquired copies of NAR fair housing posters. They used them to create a collage, and had them reproduced as a new poster. This poster is positioned so that anyone entering their offices sees it. A duplicate is also displayed at all off-site events.

A print copy of the poster, NAR’s current fair housing poster, NAR’s “Fair Housing Declaration,” NAR’s “One America Principles,” a certificate of recognition and multiple recognition opportunities are provided through an association specific program.

Taylor was a key advocate for this approach, but so was Mayo, who is the President-elect of the GPBR and will be the first African-American president of the Board.

Together with current GPBR president Lori Jaglois and the rest of the Fair Housing and Diversity Committee, brokerage participation in this grassroots program in Grosse Pointe has grown exponentially and plans on continuing to spread into neighboring communities that the GPBR also serves.

Diversity Graphic

Above: Front cover image of the 2018 Diversity Calendar, entitled “What Diversity Looks Like in 2018.” Image courtesy of GPBR.

“Because we were starting to think about Fair Housing all the time we started paying more attention to what was going on around us,” Taylor said.

Jaglois then discovered that in Grosse Pointe the school district had made this a part of their curriculum.

Consequently, in 2017, the district and the REALTORS® used the diversity education component to produce a “diversity calendar” depicting how students see diversity.

“We partnered with them to have their students show us what they believe diversity looks like,” Mayo said. “School board members and REALTORS® picked what they thought were the 13 best pictures and used them for a 2018 calendar – one for the cover and one for each month of the year.”

Funded solely by GPBR’s All-In for Diversity program, sale of the calendars was then donated, in full, to the school district.

And the beat keeps going into 2018.

In February, as part of Black History Month, the GPBR Fair Housing and Diversity Committee will help commemorate a March 1968 speech delivered at Grosse Pointe South High School by Martin Luther King, Jr.Click To Tweet

Also in February, at GPBR’s first membership meeting of 2018, the members will be viewing the new NAR fair housing video.

In April, they will partner with the Detroit Association of REALTORS® in a program hosted at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.

Additionally, GPBR will also provide an “At Home with Diversity” class.

Beyond that, GPBR has found that there are several small diversity groups in Grosse Pointe that weren’t well-publicized, and has decided to actively explore how to get involved and partner with them to help make a bigger difference in the community and to continue to work to make diversity and fair housing an accepted part of the community’s culture.

“NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall said, ‘To own the future you must own the past,’” Jaglois said. “We have to own up to where we were. Once we do we can move past old thinking and embrace modern thought,” Jaglois said. “It’s something I’m passionate about.”

And it seems like a lot of other people in Grosse Pointe are as well.

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