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Maryland Community Celebrates The Fair Housing Act

Maryland REALTORS® have kept the focus on fair housing all year long from student art contests to legislative efforts.

By Anthony SanFilippo
Student Art

All year long, REALTORS® across the country have found ways to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

Most associations concentrated their efforts back in April. And why not? That’s when the Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Different communities and cities made April “Fair Housing Month” to raise awareness for 30 days on the importance of fair housing. Many associations offer continuing education courses throughout the year.

But not many associations have gone to the lengths that the Maryland REALTORS® have in keeping fair housing as a prominent part of the conversation all year long.

Social Media Campaign

It started back in February, when they started a “50 Days to the 50th Anniversary” campaign on social media.

Every day, for nearly two months leading up to the April 11 anniversary date, Maryland REALTORS® shared facts, articles and resources on topics related to fair housing on Instagram and Facebook.

And while there was definitely awareness on April 11 through those social media platforms, the Maryland REALTORS® continued their commemoration well past the anniversary date.

Fair Housing Gala Celebration

On April 28, they partnered with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights for a fair housing gala celebration in Baltimore at the Reginald F. Lewis African American History Museum. There were two keynote speakers at the well-attended event. Those speakers were Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

The April edition of the Maryland REALTORS® member magazine was also dedicated to fair housing while Association President Boyd Campbell recorded a fair housing video that was shared with all members across the Old Line State.

Fair Housing Art Contest

But, perhaps the most enduring legacy of the work the Maryland REALTORS® put in to bring attention to fair housing is the annual fair housing art contest for school-aged children.

Students in elementary school, middle school and high school across the state are urged to present an art project each year for judgement based on a fair housing theme.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the contest.

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“The annual art contest is a great way to make the topic of fair housing accessible to school-aged children,” said Laurie Benner, Director of Housing Programs for Maryland REALTORS®. “The student winners love being celebrated at the State House and it puts our Maryland REALTOR® members in front of legislators as proponents of fair housing efforts.”

Student submissions are sent to each of the 16 local associations in Maryland and each of those associations chooses up to three finalists. Those finalists are submitted to the state association and 16 winners are chosen. Those winners and their families are invited to Annapolis for an awards presentation and luncheon at the State House. This year, the awards were presented to the students by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

Finally, the students are celebrated by having their artwork appear in a calendar for the following year that is available at most REALTOR® offices.

Housing Summit

But it didn’t stop with the end of the school year. Maryland REALTORS® kept the momentum going, and in the summer, hosted a housing summit that had an eye-opening keynote presentation by Rolf Pendall, currently the head of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, but formerly an institute fellow with the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Pendall’s presentation focused on historical housing discrimination and how that history still contributes to the racial wealth gap and disparity in homeownership rates that is seen today.

“Our summit brought together professionals from all facets of the housing industry,” Campbell said. “It is no longer adequate to discuss if and why we have an affordability problem in the U.S. The time has come to implement innovative solutions, and REALTORS® are well positioned to lead that effort on behalf of consumers.”

Legislative Efforts

The Maryland REALTORS® were also hard at work at getting legislation passed by the Maryland Legislature and signed into law that creates an easier process to remove illegal covenants affecting race, religious belief or national origin from property records.  While these covenants are already illegal due to the Fair Housing Act, some communities, home owner associations and individual properties have never struck them from the property records.

The new bill creates a simplified process to do this and creates a window of about one year to file a covenant modification with no charge.

The legislation went into effect on October 1 and after September 2019, such modifications will be charged normal recording costs.

Fair housing in Maryland has come a long way since the Fair Housing Act was signed into law in 1968. But there is still a long way to go, which is why the Maryland REALTORS® are so active in this regard not just this year, but every year.

Merry Tobin, who will be the Association President in 2019, was actually present in the senate gallery in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed, so she has seen the evolution of fair housing from its birth to where it has reached today and knows where it needs to go in the future.

“Fair housing makes us stronger by combatting the negative consequences of past discriminatory policies and practices,” Tobin said. “Every individual and family deserves a decent, affordable place to live. Ensuring equal opportunity helps pave the way for prosperous communities.”

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