Wednesday, May 23, 2012

REALTORS® Dubbed ‘Conscience of the Industry’

Steps to nowhere are scattered throughout the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans — steps that once led to homes. But since the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, little rebuilding has been accomplished, says James Perry, director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center, which he greatly attributes to both systemic and individual cases of housing discrimination. In his Equal Opportunity-Cultural Diversity Forum presentation Tuesday at the NAR Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., Perry discussed examples of actions and policies that disenfranchised African-American citizens who lived in the most devastated areas of New Orleans. In one such case, private individuals in nearby communities and states posted online housing ads inviting “white only” displaced residents of New Orleans to share private homes or rent rooms — blatantly disregarding the Fair Housing Act. And an ordinance established by the neighboring St. Bernard Parish prohibited property owners in the predominantly white community from renting single-family homes to anyone other than blood relatives. The parish later required property owners to obtain a permit to rent, the granting of which was at the discretion of the parish, as well as placed zoning limits on multifamily housing and, most recently, a moratorium on the construction of new apartments. Litigation accusing St. Bernard Parish of Fair Housing violations has been ongoing for more than six years. John Trasvina, HUD’s assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and another presenter at the forum, has intimate involvement in the case, having filed a housing discrimination complaint against the parish as well. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina changed everything for the residents of New Orleans. But if there is a beacon of hope, it’s that housing inequalities, accessibility obstacles, and systemic flaws are starting to be recognized, Perry says. Last year, HUD charged more Fair Housing cases than ever before. But Trasvina says the agency is working to tackle discrimination issues by addressing systemic problems rather than always taking them on a case-by-case basis. HUD is working more closely with counties and municipalities to provide data and analysis in order to isolate housing obstacles and outline ways jurisdictions can use HUD funds to break down barriers. Trasvina called on REALTORS® to increase community participation, and serve as a housing advocate and resource. “NAR has become the conscience of the industry and a true partner,” he said. “REALTORS® are the most important asset, friend, and partner in the fair housing movement,” Perry added — Erica Christoffer, REALTOR® Magazine

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