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Northwest Indiana community commemorates Fair Housing anniversary

Read the story of a REALTOR® from Northwest Indiana who came face-to-face with sellers who backed out of a contract after learning that the buyers were an African-American couple.

By Anthony SanFilippo

Brenda Miley had a client who was looking to buy a home in Northwest Indiana. The client was a business executive. He could practically afford to buy whatever house he wanted in any neighborhood. However, moving to the area from Atlanta with his wife, he didn’t have the opportunity to constantly travel to the area to look at housing options.

When Brenda found a home that she thought the client would like, she contacted him, and he and his wife flew to Indiana to see the property. They instantly fell in love and made an offer on the house.

The seller accepted enthusiastically, so much so that she sent a package of Easter eggs to the buyer.

Closing was still a way off, as the new owner wasn’t looking to move to Indiana until September, so there was time for things to change – and did they ever.

First, the listing agent contacted Miley and started asking questions about the buyers. Miley found this to be disconcerting but was especially taken aback when the agent asked her about the client’s ethnic background.

“I told her I couldn’t disclose that information, but it was really troublesome,” Miley said. “I didn’t expect what happened next.”

The buyer and his wife had loaded all of their belongings in a U-Haul and made the lengthy commute from Atlanta to Indiana. When they arrived, they asked Miley if they could get access to the house in advance of closing, not to unload their belongings, but to do a final check and plan out where everything was going to go.

Miley brought them to the house, and when they got there, the owners were waiting. They wouldn’t let them in, because the buyers were African-American.

A day later, the sellers bailed out on closing, because they didn’t want to sell their home to an African-American couple.

“It was horrible,” Miley said. “Here was this couple, with all their belongings in a new community expecting to move into a home, and they had nowhere to go. I had to quickly find them a new home, but it really irked me that the seller backed out of the sale because they felt like they were protecting their neighbors.”

This happened in 1993. Twenty-five years after the passing of the Fair Housing Act.

That’s why, when the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of REALTORS® (GNIAR) came together with the Northwest Indiana Reinvestment Alliance to be a diverse and powerful voice for the residents of Lake County, Ind. held an event last April to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Miley, a past president of GNIAR, wouldn’t miss the event.

“Fair Housing has long been a challenge in Northwest Indiana,” she said. “We’ve definitely come a long way, but there is still work to do. Having an event like the one we had in April is important because I do think it is something of which we should always be mindful. If not, we can fall into the same crap from way back when. I know politics is divisive right now, but it doesn’t matter your politics we should be more accepting of each other as human beings, and that’s what the Fair Housing Act reminds us.”

The event brought together more than 100 community leaders from local governments, not-for-profit service organizations, lending institutions and REALTOR® firms.

To begin the afternoon, there was a two-hour class, about the history that led to the Fair Housing Act which also engaged in case studies of real life situations in Indiana.

Following this “lead off” portion was the main event that brought:

  • an inspirational message from Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin about the meaning of fair housing,
  • a presentation from Rev. Charles Emery, Pastor, Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church titled: “Fair Housing and Community Development: Today’s Importance.”
  • A speech from the Honorable Richard Hatcher, former Mayor of Gary, Ind. (1968-1987) who gave a firsthand historical account of “The State of Fair Housing in 1968.”

The evening concluded with an awards presentation to community leaders recognized for their outstanding leadership in the area of fair housing and a networking reception.

“Fair housing brings together the people of this country into one community,” Miley said. “Our pledge of allegiance says one thing, but if we want it to be that way, we need that mindset across the board – care about everyone and help everyone the same way. Everyone matters. That’s how fair housing makes us stronger.”

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