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‘It’s a Tough History’: Top Real Estate Organization Apologizes For Past Discrimination, Works to Support Black Homeownership

In the 1930s, it was not uncommon for real estate agents to use language describing areas as “negro-blighted” and filled with an “infiltration of undesirable racial elements” to dissuade white homebuyers from purchasing in specific communities. This language, spearheaded by the National Association of Real Estate Boards, led to the development of redlining maps and discriminatory practices within the real estate industry that contributed to de facto segregation throughout the United States, decreasing the home value in Black communities and contributing to inequitable community resources. 

NAR Logo, 1923-1973 (Image: Society of American Archivists website) Bryan Greene, NAR’s recently appointed director of fair housing policy, a newly created post (Photo: NAR website)

Today, the leadership of the National Association of Realtors, the largest trade group representing real estate agents, has issued a formal apology to Black Americans and other non-whites who have experienced housing discrimination in the United States. (NAR is the successor of the National Association of Real Estate Boards.) This apology comes despite internal conflicts within the organization, which is 78 percent white, and previously supported Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign as late as 2019. 

Yet as the socio-political climate in the United States is experiencing change, leadership within the organization sees the importance of confronting past discrimination and current inequities head-on. 

Bryan Greene, who worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 29 years, joined NAR in 2019. Green became the organization’s first director of fair housing policy in 2019 and now serves as NAR’s vice president of policy advocacy and oversees legislative and regulatory advocacy initiatives. 

With Greene, a Black man, as part of the executive leadership of the organization, it would appear change is coming in the organization. Yet, NAR recently had to adopt a rule against hate speech as several members were caught making racist comments on social media. Also, NAR is supporting President Biden’s initiative of adding three million Black homeowners within the next 10 years. 

In addition, a faction of NAR members has lobbied for changes within the organization such as reduced commissions for non-white homebuyers and sellers. 

“It’s a tough history,” said Greene at a recent NAR event. “But we have turned the corner.”

Facing Lawsuits and Federal Investigation

NAR is no stranger to racism and discrimination in the housing industry. In Illinois and Missouri, consumers have filed class-action lawsuits against NAR, charging antitrust grounds. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division is leading an investigation concerning NAR’s control of the Multiple Listing Service, making sellers agree to a cooperative compensation model, allowing buying and selling agents to split proceeds of home sales. And, in 1968, as the Fair Housing Act was being established, the organization’s predecessor opposed the legislation. 

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