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The Fight For Fair Housing In Illinois Continues Today

When the Fair Housing Act was first brought to the public’s attention, many homeowners and REALTORS® viewed it as an infringement on their property rights.

By Tanya Svoboda
fair housing illinois

When the Fair Housing Act was first brought to the public’s attention, many homeowners and REALTORS® viewed it as an infringement on their property rights. Newspaper articles and pamphlets opposing the bill featured headlines claiming, “This Is Forced Occupancy Legislation”.

Matt Diffanis, President of the Illinois REALTORS® Association explains, “Fair housing was equated with ‘forced housing’ for many homeowners and REALTORS® during this period of history.” In fact, The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), known at that time as National Association of Real Estate Board’s (NAREB), stated their position in a trade newspaper with the headline, “NAREB fights ‘civil rights’ Bill: Trend is Against Forced Housing.”

Diffanis, an energetic and driven fair housing advocate, is quick to point out that NAR was on the wrong side of history for a time. “A large part of moving forward is being transparent and honest about where we’ve been as an organization.” Diffanis shares that the Illinois REALTORS® Association of today works hand-in-hand with minoreity trade groups like the Chicago’s Dearborn Realtist Board, an African American run trade association that was founded in order to offer support and leadership during a time when black Real Estate Brokers were not allowed to join existing trade organizations.

Courtney Q. Jones, President of the REALTIST board was recently part of a mini-documentary the Illinois association produced titled, Fair Housing Makes Us Stronger. Jones said, “This video was badly needed in order to bring awareness about how policy plays a huge role in Illinois’s housing market, in our black housing market especially.”

Jones says that evidence of fair housing issues today can be seen in the disparate ratio of black to white homeowners. He also points to a recent report published by UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy that was titled “A Tale of Three Cities: The State of Racial Justice in Chicago” because “Racial and ethnic inequality in Chicago is so ‘pervasive, persistent, and consequential’ that the investigators describe life for white, black and Latino residents in Chicago today as a ‘tale of three cities.’ ”

The report found that prospective, minority homeowners (with credit scores comparable to their white counterparts) were still being offered high interest mortgages, balloon payment schedules and closing contracts full of additional fees. These offers either prohibited homeownership, or set minority homeowners up for potential foreclosures.

Jones stresses that it is important we see reports like this as more than just evidence of existing fair housing inequalities. “We as a city, as a state, need to see this underserved, undervalued, overcharged market as an opportunity for positive, financial growth.” Jones believes that an increase in black homeownership, ownership with fair and equitable home loans, will pave the way for black entrepreneurs. “Improving economic outlook for African Americans means a healthier economy and a solid housing market for all Illinois homeowners. White and black.”

When Jones is asked what national organizations like NAR and can do to continue to support fair housing he has a clear list of things to share. “Number one, we need to continue to educate homeowners and REALTORS® about the reality of our history. Let’s be brutally honest about our past so we can be fiercely inspired to change our future.”

“Secondly, local, minority trade organizations need to continue to work with larger, national organizations like NAR. Our collective voice needs to be clearly heard so that fair housing issues can’t get shoved into a dark corner.”

It is vital that we help current and hopeful homeowners to understand which public policies are standing in the way of a healthy housing market for Illinois.Click To Tweet

“Lastly, it is vital that we help current and hopeful homeowners to understand which public policies are standing in the way of a healthy housing market for Illinois.”

Jones goes on to say that he hopes the future holds even more collaborations with NAR. “I would love to see NAR work hand-in-hand with NAREB to champion legislation like the upcoming H.R. 4211, the Credit Score Competition Act.”

NAREB, or the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, and it’s local chapters like Chicago’s Dearborn Realtist Board, have been raising awareness about the act for the past three years. Once passed, this act will enable lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to look at additional ways in which potential homeowners demonstrate their creditworthiness. Jones says, “This act has the potential to significantly and positively impact Illinois’s housing market.”

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