The social unrest that swept the nation in 2020 prompted South Carolina REALTORS® to take an unflinching look at discrimination as it exists around them, and in the real estate industry, in particular. It may not have been pleasant, and it wasn’t easy, but their determined focus and introspection brought about a heightened awareness and a wholesale shift in culture – so much so that their efforts have been recognized by the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO). In August, the international membership-based organization presented South Carolina REALTORS® with its annual Fair Housing Award, in recognition of the association’s work to further fair housing and to promote anti-discrimination in housing.
The award honors the formation, implementation, and work of SCR’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council, which emerged from the association’s commitment to tackling the systemic barriers preventing equal access to fair housing, and whose membership represents all corners of the state.
As 2022 DEI Council Chair Owen Tyler notes, “The council exists to create and sustain a culture in South Carolina REALTORS® that embraces diversity at all levels of the organization. This ensures that SCR is able to promote and champion equality for all that live in the state of South Carolina.”
2021 DEI Council Chair Keon Aldrich reveals a key difference that the DEI Council has made in SCR culture: “Years ago, there wasn’t anyone in leadership that looked like me. So, it was hard to get other people that looked like me to feel comfortable, to even walk in a room and know that their voices will be heard. What SCR has done in the past years has been amazing, because you see so many people that look like me – and not just female, but African American – stepping up to be in leadership.”
One of the council’s first acts was to hire Tiara Pitts, a licensed attorney, to serve as SCR’s Director of Fair Housing Policy. South Carolina is one of the few state associations in the country with a staff member whose top priority is fair housing, and Pitts hit the ground running when she came aboard early in 2021. Her office controls a budget allocated for initiatives approved by the DEI Council, and this has been supplemented by two Diversity and Inclusion Grants and a Fair Housing Grant from the REALTOR® Party.
In the past two years, SCR has hosted two virtual Fair Housing Conferences, and a homeownership seminar for first-time buyers that was presented in partnership with a local branch of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. Pitts also attended NAREB’s 75th anniversary conference in Tampa. “One of our goals with DEI work is to increase minority homeownership, and forging relationships with multi-cultural organizations in our industry is an important step in that direction. I returned from the NAREB conference with a list of speakers I’m excited to invite to address SCR audiences,” she notes.
Other initiatives supporting SCR’s newly defined values include five annual minority scholarships created to increase diversity participation in SCR’s Leadership Academy. SCR actively supports local boards taking the initiative to create their own DEI committees, and continuously promotes resources from the National Association of REALTORS®, including the At Home with Diversity course, the Fairhaven Training Simulation, and Implicit Bias Training. To handle cases of harassment within the association, SCR has developed an internal anonymous complaint system. It also creates its own podcasts and video content covering a wide range of diversity and fair housing topics and makes them available on podcast platforms and the SCR YouTube Channel.
According to Pitts, many of the DEI Council’s initial goals have been achieved, and while everyone is very proud of the ARELLO award, the commitment to promoting fair and equal housing for all is an ongoing effort. She appreciates the backing of the REALTOR® Party, and encourages other associations to take advantage of the resources it offers: “The grant programs are very user-friendly, and they’re there to support your goals!”
To learn more about how South Carolina REALTORS® is achieving an inclusive organizational culture and taking a leadership stance for fair housing in the state, contact Tiara Pitts, Director of Fair Housing Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803.712.3478.