Susan Campbell: New training for real estate agents should improve home ownership equity in CT

Back • Publication Date: January 16, 2021 • Health & Housing

At Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, Democratic representatives (and some Republicans) testified to the president’s incitement of a deadly riot, his lack of remorse, and his abuse of power. A few mentioned white supremacy.

The insurgency didn’t just happen, and neither does white supremacy. The latter is built over generations, using every entity available – the law, religion, and sometimes, what may seem the most innocuous of things, like a man with a clipboard.

In the depths of the Great Depression, nearly half of Connecticut’s homes were at or in foreclosure. To counter that, the federal government sent agents from the new Home Owners’ Loan Corporation to assess which mortgages could be refinanced.

The HOLC eventually refinanced nearly a million loans, and saved multiple families from homelessness. But their execution was flawed. To gauge which neighborhoods were salvageable, HOLC agents created “residential security maps” by going up and down streets in towns around the country – including New Haven and Hartford. The assessors looked at the age and upkeep of buildings were kept up and the state of public spaces, and then they marked as less-than-desirable neighborhoods where they saw a person of color – or a person who might be an immigrant.

Using those notes, city blocks were then color-coded to indicate which neighborhoods contained residents who were more likely to repay mortgages. The most desirable neighborhoods (read: white residents) were colored green, followed in descending order of desirability neighborhoods marked blue, yellow, and red, which is where “red-lining” comes from.

For the most part, those red-coded blocks never recovered, not in Hartford or New Haven. They were abandoned by their government, and most remain among towns’ poorest neighborhoods nationwide.

Filling the moats of Connecticut, one of the country’s most segregated states, won’t come from a single law or affordable housing program, but starting this month, Connecticut real estate agents who want to keep their licenses will be required to take a three-hour continuing education class that examines racial bias in their profession.

“This is a time of important and ongoing national conversation and attention about race and systemic racism,” said Cindy Butts, CEO of Connecticut Association of Realtors. “Our country has a history of discrimination which has led to the lack of housing opportunities and the ability to create generational wealth for communities of color.”

For most Americans, home ownership is the key to building wealth. In Connecticut, in 2018, the median white household in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $82,950. By comparison, the median Black household pre-tax income was $47,856 – 58% that of white households — and $45,730 for Hispanics, or 55% that of whites, according to a December Connecticut Voices for Children report. Connecticut’s racial income gap is larger than the country’s average, the report said.

It makes sense to include real estate agents in any attempt of a systemic change, said Cheryl Hilton, a Windsor real estate agent who helped write the required class. She said, “Realtors have such a responsibility. We build communities.”

In November, the National Association of Realtors joined the push to find a new way to do business when the group changed their code of ethics to include bans on agents’ hateful speech on social media. “We’ve long been saying, ‘How could people who are anti-BLM, anti-LGBTQ+ be treating their clients fairly,” said Hilton. “How could you go on your personal Facebook page and say, ‘I want to run my car through these BLM protesters,’ and then have a Black client who is a Black life? That’s a huge disconnect.”

A 2019 Newsday investigation that uncovered rampant unfair practices among Long Island real estate agents moved Connecticut agents to look at how they treat their own clients, said Joanne Breen, who just stepped down as Connecticut Association of Realtors president.

Breen said she hopes the training will “open up a conversation. When you know better, you do better. If this course does nothing else, we want to open the eyes of our white members so that they’re willing to say, ‘I should have done that better, I could have done that better, and now I know a better way.’”

“The goal is to plant seeds to get people to really examine their own behavior,” said Hilton. “Maybe they can admit that there is an issue. It’s exhausting, but what do they say: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Authors: Susan Campbell •  Source: Greenwich Time • View