During Sara Walsh’s term as president of Columbus REALTORS® President, she knew she wanted to focus on Fair Housing. With the support of a REALTOR® Party Diversity Grant, not only did the 8,000-member association facilitate two successful diversity awareness programs, it strengthened relationships with local minority real estate professional boards, and established a standing Diversity & Inclusion Committee.
Though Columbus is a dynamic and growing city with a robust economy and admirable diversity, says Columbus REALTORS® Director of Development Ida Seitter, regrettably, it also remains largely segregated by race. With this in mind, the REALTORS®’ Fair Housing Task Force determined that its goal would be to educate members and industry colleagues about ongoing cultural bias and discrimination in the housing market. For months, it worked with the local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (the Columbus Realtists) and the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) on two separate events held last fall: a Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) workshop; and an original dramatic program that it called “Thirst for Equality,” based on a real legal case involving water discrimination. Both projects are expected to grow and have an impact beyond the initial anniversary-year events.
Fair Housing Task Force member Buzz Thomas spearheaded the group’s hosting of the Cost of Poverty Experience, a program offering participants an interactive glimpse into the lives of low-income individuals and families living in the local community. For this pilot program, the REALTORS® and their Realtist and NAGLREP colleagues invited core leadership, committee chairs, and local area realty presidents, about 60 in all, to participate in the simulation. “The goal of COPE is to immerse attendees in the lives of those facing poverty and housing insecurity, giving them a peek into these daily challenges, and overcoming biases they might not realize they have,” says Walsh, adding, “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we believe that attendees walked away with tools they can use in their business and personal lives.”
The cost of the program was offset by a REALTOR® Party Diversity Grant, which also covered the fee for Thomas to become a trained facilitator, an asset that Seitter points out will significantly lower expenses as the Task Force works to develop the curriculum to focus more specifically on real estate issues, and offer its own COPE program to the general memberships in the future.
“Thirst for Equality,” the dramatization of a legal case, was inspired by a mock trial Rubye Wright, a Fair Housing Task Force member and treasurer of the Columbus Realtists, had attended elsewhere in the state. Researching comparable cases that could be brought to life for the community, the Task Force was uncomfortably surprised to find a local case, Kennedy vs. the City of Zanseville (OH), which had only been settled in 2008. Re-enactors included an Ohio Civil Rights Commission Director; the Franklin County Auditor; and a former Ohio Supreme Court Justice serving as the presiding judge. NAREB, NAGLREP, and Columbus REALTORS® played the part of witnesses and legal defense team. The REALTORS® hired a writer to prepare an engaging script of the trial, telling the story of an African-American community suing for access to public water. “It was a powerful drama, all the more so for being true, and local, and from the not-too-distant past,” says co-host, Columbus Realtist President, Sheree Smoot-Johnson, who points out that a video has been made available for those unable to attend the actual event (see below). To expand the program to the three hours required for Continuing Education credit, a discussion panel took place after the dramatization.
“Our ongoing priority is to provide members with the most innovative tools available to best prepare them to be positive ambassadors in the community,” says Seitter. “This includes programs that encourage members to thin outside the box and view housing holistically; healthy neighborhoods equal higher home values. Ultimately, programs like these help participants recognize and overcome cultural and economic bias, breaking habits we may not even realize exist. By being conscious of biases, Columbus REALTORS® are better positioned to serve their clients and the entire community. We’re especially proud of the bond we’ve formed this year with our colleagues at the Columbus Realtists and NAGLREP, working toward common goals.”
To learn more about how the Columbus REALTORS® are honoring the spirit of the Fair Housing Act well beyond its 50th anniversary, contact Director of Development Ida Seitter at 614-528-1104.