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Fair Housing Month: Why It Matters

Fair Housing Month: Why It Matters

Where we live determines so much in our lives.

Think about it: where you live has a direct impact on your health, your lifestyle, your commute to work, your social life and in huge way, your wealth.  When we choose a place to live, these are the factors that drive that decision, whether we are aware of them or not. 

Why Fair Housing policies matter. 

Now, with this in mind, let’s think about Fair Housing laws. Fair Housing as a concept isn’t just about knowing who the protected classes are under the law. Fair Housing is a much broader concept where we consider the access that people have to housing that meets their needs and professional services to support them in that process. Imagine you have saved for years to buy a home and when you finally begin your search, you find that you don’t have the same access to information or services as other buyers in the same market. And then you realize it’s because of who you are, where you come from, what your family looks like or some other factor that is completely independent of your ability to buy the house. How would you feel? 

That’s just the obvious scenario though. Years ago, barriers to housing were more flagrant, where specific classes of people were excluded from living in certain neighborhoods or cities. Today, barriers to housing opportunities can be much more subtle and sometimes, unintentional. For example, real estate practices like “private exclusives” or “off-market listings” may not seem like fair housing issues, but they quickly can be, if implemented broadly by brokerages. This is the practice where a listing is not entered into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and is only marketed by the listing agent to his/her own contacts. While this is appropriate for some situations depending on seller needs, it is a practice that limits the number of people aware of that listing. To apply this practice regularly means that large sets of buyers do not have access to listing information. How is that “fair” and, more importantly, who actually benefits from this practice? (Hint: it’s not the buyer or the seller.) 

Applying a Fair Housing lens to all aspects of the process.

Fair housing must be the priority in setting new guidelines and legislation, as residential real estate practices evolve. We can- and should- apply the fair housing lens to all areas of the real estate transaction. This would include not just brokerage operations, but also lending practices and programs, appraisals and legal representation. Particularly in the Greater Boston area, one of the most expensive and competitive markets in the U.S., where buying a home is more stressful and unaffordable than ever before, we must take steps to ensure that opportunities for homeownership exist for all that are able. 

 

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