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DE&I: Will the Housing Market Catch Up?

As we approach the end of 2022, we realize we have come through a pandemic, the remnants of the George Floyd murder and so much more. Yes, when we start reminiscing about the year 2022, we want to pat ourselves on the back thinking how far we have come and that everything is diverse, fair, and inclusive.

Sadly, however we still have a long way to go towards that American dream. In most facets of American life this reality has not been achieved. And housing in America continues to lock many people out of homeownership, renting a decent home at an affordable price and so much more. While we all know the unfair practices of the American justice system, many are not familiar with the unfair practices in other industries like housing.

So, I wanted to do a check in and remind us that we still have work to do to fix things that continue to be barriers to inclusion and equity in this country.

So, let’s talk about the housing industry in America. It has changed a lot over the years. But, not by much. Many of those changes came after the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act was a part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which was a follow up to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The Fair Housing Act covers and protects against discrimination when it comes to race, religion, sex (including gender identity), national origin, disability, and familial status.

The act was passed to outlaw practices such as refusing to rent or even sell a home based on protected class such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. It also protected individuals from landlords and mortgage brokers from setting different payment terms based on someone’s race.

While the Fair Housing Act covered a lot of ground to get us to some form of equity in the housing market, we know that treating people fairly and with equanimity comes from the heart.

What does that mean? Well, it means that we can’t legislate you into being a good, decent human being, or help you overcome your greed. So not everyone in the housing market follows the Fair Housing Act as it stands.

We have seen recent evidence of this played out in the media with housing appraisers, realtors and leasing companies refusing to be fair.

A recent news story of an interracial couple who were having their home appraised brought to light just how unfair these practices continue to be, or rather how little greed and injustice has changed.

As a part of the home selling and buying process an appraisal is require. The couple contracted with a local appraiser who returned an appraisal well below the value of the home. It was so low the couple decided to see what would happen if they changed some things in their home.

The couple decided to remove anything in the home that identified them as bi-racial or that a black member lived in the home. They removed family pictures, art, and books that related to black culture.

They ordered a new appraisal. When the home was re-appraised, the value of their home went up 40%.

We here at the WEBB Advisory Group have heard the argument that maybe the first appraiser didn’t understand the market or wasn’t skilled enough. All the arguments that protect his whiteness and gives a pass for his inhumanity, greed and just downright bad behavior.

While we cannot say 100% that the reason for the second appraiser appraising the home almost 40% above the previous appraisal was because the couple removed specific items that related to black culture, we can say that after years of things like redlining it does look like that may be the reason.

As I was writing this I wondered if the Fair Housing Act applies to new type of housing rentals like Airbnb or HomeAway. As we have heard of discrimination in these rentals as well. And I got to experience my own discrimination at the hands of Airbnb.

Unfortunately, The Fair Housing Act does have an exemption. Which means it exempts “owner occupied” residences that offer no more than 5 rooms for rent. However, when I looked at many of the homes listed at Airbnb and HomeAway, the Fair Housing Act would apply to most of the housing rentals on those sites.

This means the next time you are considering an Airbnb or HomeAway, those companies of course must follow the Fair Housing Act, to limit discrimination, but (and this is a big but) that does not mean the owner of the house has to.

I’ve never personally had any problems with HomeAway. My family rents houses In Orange Beach, Alabama every year. HomeAway doesn’t ask you to load up a picture of yourself (which allows the homeowner to pick and choose and decide based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc. that you are a good or bad renter).

Last year however, that wasn't my experience with Airbnb. My friend and I were going to have a “mommy” get away in Orange Beach, Alabama. We were going to celebrate being almost 40 years old with kids that are grown or in high school. We don’t party and were looking to get in some “me” time and relax.

We decided to look at Airbnb (a first and last). We were really surprised that Airbnb requests you to load up a picture. I was unsure why they wanted it, but I said “ok” and loaded the picture up. It was summer at the time, and I was rocking my summer braids with red tip ends. As a young black woman, I thought nothing of it, and I uploaded my picture.

I found the perfect house to rent right on the beach for my best friend and I to get in some relax time before school started for our kids. I requested the days we were going and in the information box it asks for a description of your travel plans.

As I said, we were doing a “mommy” away weekend. I explained it was a mom's weekend away, and we were just looking to relax and hang out at the beach.

I instantly received a message back that said “sorry the dates you have chosen are already booked. Although on the calendar there wasn’t a booking. Could a booking have come in at the same time? Well not exactly. You see when you request that time, if it is available, it is immediately removed from the calendar.

About four hours after I put in the request, I was still curious, so I went back onto the Airbnb site and yep you guessed it...those dates were back on the calendar as available.

You know the racism and discrimination didn’t hurt my feelings, as I know that those are symptoms only the person holding them has. The little, judgmental self in that person didn’t stop me from enjoying some time to relax. But I couldn’t believe someone would lose out on money for a misguided opinion of someone.

What does make me mad and sad, is that they saw a black woman with braids and didn’t want to rent. It makes me sad and mad because my daughters will have to still live in a world that judges them on the color of their skin and not the content of their character.

It can be painful, when like any other woman what I was looking for was a little down time as a mom that needed a mini vacation with a friend and (of course) that glass of wine.

We hear the stories of other people who rent out these homes for the stupidest things, such as making adult videos, or tik tok videos, or to use as background to get Instagram followers, and hold underage parties. The fact that Airbnb condones this conduct from their homeowners is what is painful.

We weren't allowed to rent based on prejudice and an assumption from a picture. I guess I'm just tired (yep sick and tired) of this ugly, inhumane, ungodly behavior out of people who would instantly tell you what "good people" they are.

We must get the housing market and rental market back on track and challenge the Fair Housing Act through updated legislation, so it becomes the safety net to protect all citizens from discrimination.

I hear people all the time talk about being “woke.” Well, being "woke" means we vote and fix legislation that is more than 50 years old, to protect every citizen.

Yes, people have the right to do what they want to with their property and their money. However, we must stop turning a blind eye to all racism, and discrimination in this country and allowing this type of behavior to continue.

Requiring a “picture” on the Airbnb site is akin to hanging a sign that says, “No Colored Allowed.”

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