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The Motivation Behind Illinois’s Fair Housing Documentary

When Frank 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.

By Tanya Svoboda
Historical Document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.”

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