The Black Lives Matter movement has influenced local real estate leaders to take a look at their actions and policies. iStock image

BLM serves as jumping off point for equity in real estate

The residential real estate industry has a checkered history when it comes to racial equity, inclusion and diversity. From abetting legal segregation and the threats and violence of the Jim Crow era to less overt tactics such as redlining, the industry has often served as a front line in the push for equality.

Recognizing that the residential real estate industry bears some responsibility for upholding America’s baked-in system of white supremacy and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the nation last summer, industry leaders are stepping up to help make a change.

“In the back of my mind I always thought this is something we should work on,” Kentwood Real Estate CEO Gretchen Rosenberg said. “But when the Black Lives Matter [movement] resurged this summer, I thought, ‘If we don’t don’t do something now, when will we?’”

Windermere Real Estate president OB Jacobi said that he felt “a little bummed that it took us so long to really dive in and tackle some of these tough issues” and looked to BLM and the broader diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement for motivation to make that dive. 

“The awareness that was brought about in such an intense way at the right time gave companies the opportunity to look at themselves and get some help figuring things out,” Jacobi said. “We don’t know what we don’t know. Learning about the history of inequality is staggering when you dive in and take a look.”

At Kentwood, Rosenberg went to her employees in search of volunteers to help form and lead a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

On a base level, the aim of the council was to facilitate conversations that allow colleagues “get real with each other and be a little vulnerable.”

Eventually the group developed the “plus-one” program, which encourages every broker to attend at least one community function and bring a colleague as a guest.

Additionally, Kentwood is translating its marketing materials into Spanish and other languages and is working to establish the Kentwood Cares foundation to provide a financial backstop for families of company workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

Windermere turned to Moving Beyond, a training and consulting firm led by the sibling of a Windermere employee, to help guide the company’s DEI efforts.

“In the beginning, we had to just realize how white we are,” Jacobi said. “As an industry we’re pretty white and as a company we’re very white.”

Windermere established a pair of committees — one representing the corporate entity and the other representing its franchisees — to develop a strategy for improving the communities in which the company operates.

“The owner-agent relationship can be somewhat fragile. It’s not exactly like an employee-employer relationship,” Jacobi said. “We’re going to lead by example but leave it up to [the franchisee] about how far they want to go with their DEI initiatives. In urban centers, some offices have jumped right in and already have all sorts of training and conversations. But some of our offices don’t yet know where to start that conversation. If we can give a framework … that’s great.”

In Seattle, Windermere has taken on the challenge of addressing discriminatory language often still buried within neighborhood covenants, conditions and restrictions.

“It was a way in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s for neighborhoods to stay white,” Jacobi said. “It’s redlining, and it’s been deemed illegal, which is fantastic. But the words still stay in the [covenant] documents.”

By removing racist concepts from covenants, Windermere hopes to help remove psychological barriers some people may have when deciding on where to purchase a home.

The DEI issue is particularly complicated in the residential real estate industry because of the role housing has played in de facto or de jour segregation.

“We can’t go back and change what happened. But we owe it to communities of color and women and single moms to help them live out their version of the American dream,” Rosenberg said. “We have to eliminate this disinclination to help people because they seem ‘other.’’’

Increasing the representation of people of color within the ranks of brokers could go a long way toward evening the homeownership playing field, industry leaders say.

“You buy and sell homes with people you know, like and trust,” Jacobi said, so it’s often helpful if buyers have access to brokers who look and talk like them.

The residential real estate industry has a checkered history when it comes to racial equity, inclusion and diversity. From abetting legal segregation and the threats and violence of the Jim Crow era to less overt tactics such as redlining, the industry has often served as a front line in the push for equality.

Recognizing that the residential real estate industry bears some responsibility for upholding America’s baked-in system of white supremacy and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that swept the nation last summer, industry leaders are stepping up to help make a change.

“In the back of my mind I always thought this is something we should work on,” Kentwood Real Estate CEO Gretchen Rosenberg said. “But when the Black Lives Matter [movement] resurged this summer, I thought, ‘If we don’t don’t do something now, when will we?’”

Windermere Real Estate president OB Jacobi said that he felt “a little bummed that it took us so long to really dive in and tackle some of these tough issues” and looked to BLM and the broader diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement for motivation to make that dive. 

“The awareness that was brought about in such an intense way at the right time gave companies the opportunity to look at themselves and get some help figuring things out,” Jacobi said. “We don’t know what we don’t know. Learning about the history of inequality is staggering when you dive in and take…