The National Association of Realtors is pondering a noble step against hate by upping the stakes in its fight against discrimination in the homebuying process.
The trade group’s board of directors is scheduled to vote Nov. 13 on proposed changes to its code of ethics, expanding what’s considered discriminatory actions from just real estate activities to include member’s off-hours public statements — most notably online comments and postings.
The association said an “unprecedented” wave of complaints about its members’ social media conduct during this tumultuous year was the motivating factor.
Under current rules, the association admits “members can engage in conduct and speech that is discriminatory and abhorrent” without penalty unless tied directly to real estate work. So its ethics committee proposed stiffer and broader enforcement because “speech and conduct reflect on the Realtor organization whether said publicly on a business social media profile, or privately on a personal one.”
Let’s face the ugly facts. Homebuying and lending have a long legacy of discrimination — sadly, some of that done with Realtors’ help and the government’s blessing. Look at various industry statistics and you’ll see there’s still an unfair playing field for certain house hunters.
Yes, industry leaders have said, seemingly forever, that they want to begin to fix these inequities. Yet I’ve been stunned over the years to see what folks in the real estate field will say on social media. Not only is some of it, at a minimum, hurtful speech, I wonder what good it does for that person’s business career — unless they’re catering to like-minded clients.
Matt Difanas, head of the association’s standards committee that wrote the proposed rules, knows this isn’t a widely popular change and he welcomes “uncomfortable discussions.” In an association video he recounts samples from “the mountain of hate speech” by Realtors — from the use of racist and homophobic slurs not worth repeating in this space to one member itching to use his $1,500 rifle on, well, a vile racial epithet.
Modern-day hate isn’t a good mix with Realtors’ unsavory history, Difinas says.
“We quite literally drew the color lines,” he said on an association video. “Our fingerprints as Realtors are all over the redlining maps which, 52 years after fair housing became the law of the land, still scar our landscape.”
So, small cures are underway. For example, Lisa Dunn, a Realtor from Rancho Santa Margarita, helped recently start the “Deliberately Fair Housing” group on Facebook to educate real estate pros about avoiding discriminatory practices.
“What some people have been posting on social media has been disgusting and sometimes even threatening,” she said.
“It’s going to take positive action to remedy decades’ worth of inequality, and we must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with millions of Americans in affirming that Black lives matter,” said Vince Malta, NAR’s president, in a story by Andrea Brambila at Inman.com. “Some say, ‘stay out of this issue, NAR. Just stay in your lane.’ Well, this is our lane. This is the time for Realtors to step up and lead.”
That push includes another proposal that would make violations of this expanded definition of discriminatory talk, if proven, something reportable to real estate regulators — just like fraudulent actions are today.
Look, I’m a huge free speech supporter, but I applaud the association’s thinking. Spewing hate shouldn’t be acceptable. And the group acknowledged its right as a private business to set its own standards for its dues-paying members.
“The First Amendment does not preclude NAR from imposing this ethical duty as a condition of membership.”
Source: Orange County Register