PRESIDENT'S CORNER: Committed to Fair Housing
Barry Kramer | March 2018
April is Fair Housing Month and this year we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act. As a Realtor for the past 20 years I have been proud to be affiliated with the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and other organizations that are committed to promoting fair and affordable housing throughout the area.
In 2000 I was an advocate for the creation of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission, which was established under former County Executive Andy Spano. After extensive public debate and scrutiny, the commission was established and enforces one of the most advanced and progressive laws in the State of New York, focused on civil and human rights. The law is designed to protect the residents of Westchester County from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation and credit, and its jurisdiction is countywide. Together with HUD, the Human Rights Commission created the county’s Fair Housing Law. In my tenure on the commission, including a term as chairman, I worked with individuals committed to fighting discrimination of all kinds, including those related to housing.
In addition to investigating, conciliating and adjudicating claims, the Human Rights Commission is committed to education and outreach initiatives to promote diversity awareness. They provide programs and services to employers, schools, service clubs and organizations that foster education, awareness and understanding of diversity, unity and humanity.
Over the past few years I have also served on the Board of Westchester Residential Opportunities, which is based in White Plains and serves the entire Hudson Valley region. WRO is involved in all areas of housing and promotes not only fair housing, but also opportunities for affordable housing. Through its extensive programs WRO helps individuals who are buying homes as first-time buyers, seeking mortgage assistance and/or facing foreclosure or the loss of their home. HGAR has participated extensively with WRO and has co-sponsored educational events, such as the annual Affordable Housing Expo at the Westchester County Center.
One of the most significant fair housing issues for me is the advancement of laws related to co-op transparency. Last month I wrote about progress we’ve made in Rockland County, and now, together with our Director of Government Affairs, Philip Weiden, we’re working on bringing similar legislation to Westchester. Creating a timeline in co-op transactions and requiring that a co-op give a reason for any rejection is a fair housing initiative all Realtors should actively support.
Fair housing is a personal issue for me, and last year I attended the LGBT Housing Policy Summit in Washington, DC, sponsored by the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals. (NAGLREP). The summit advocates for the addition of LGBT protection to the Federal Fair Housing Act and works with NAR and Civil Rights non-profits to advance LGBT inclusion in the federal fair housing laws. I will be attending this event again this year in April.
Working to promote fair and affordable housing is part of our responsibility as a Realtor. We must be vigilant in our own enforcement of fair housing laws. A few years ago, a potential buyer came to my office and asked me the racial make-up of a nearby building. I politely asked them to leave. I was Chairman of the County Human Rights Commission at the time and let them know there was no place for that kind of thinking. On another occasion a landlord came to me and wanted to list an apartment, but they were only looking for a certain ethnicity as a renter, citing favorable past experiences. Again, I refused and did not take the listing. I’ve had many instances of buyers asking about the racial make-up of an area, and I suggested that they spend some time in the neighborhood and decide for themselves or do research on the web.
As Realtors we celebrate the commemoration of the Fair Housing Act and consider what it means to us as individuals. We agree that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. I plan to continue to be a voice for fair housing, and I will particularly focus on achieving co-op transparency in Westchester and advancing rights for the LGBT community in housing. I’m proud of HGAR’s efforts to educate and promote fair housing. As an association, it is one of our greatest strengths.