NAR’s Fair Housing Policy Director Greene Tells HGAR: To Solve Racism: “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

John Jordan | July 2020

NAR Fair Housing Policy Director Bryan Greene

WHITE PLAINS—National Association of Realtors Fair Housing Policy Director Bryan Greene said the current racial equality and COVID pandemic crises remind him of the classic motion picture— “Jaws” where actor Roy Scheider as Chief Martin Brody upon seeing the killer great white shark for the first time, says, “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat.”

Greene, the guest speaker at HGAR’s Fair Housing Summit held on Zoom on July 15, said that “Jaws” and sequel “Jaws II” chronicled a beach town’s dilemma balancing economics with safety, similar to what many communities, counties and states are currently dealing with in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a great metaphor for some of the issues that we are dealing with,” Greene said during the Zoom summit. “It means that the tools that we have for the job may not be sufficient… to deal with the challenges at hand.”

HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty noted that the association intended to hold its Fair Housing Summit in April, but the coronavirus pandemic forced its rescheduling and change of format to virtual. In addition, the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police has prompted nationwide protests under the banner of “Black Lives Matter.”

The confluence of the pandemic and the ongoing discussions now taking place concerning racial inequality “has taken on a new urgency,” Haggerty said. “I try to find a lot of silver linings in what we have gone through over the last three months. If there is a silver lining it is that it has started a dialogue that should have been ongoing for many, many decades,” he added.

The Fair Housing Committee chaired by Carmen Baumen and HGAR’s Fair Housing Task Force agreed that an event featuring NAR’s Director of Fair Housing Policy was in order in light of the issues raised in a Newsday article published in November 2019.

Greene related that the Newsday article detailing alleged fair housing violations and other discriminatory practices on Long Island pre-dated the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. While the Newsday investigation has brought Fair Housing keenly into focus in New York State and across the nation, the killings of Floyd, Taylor and others have also brought racial inequality and systemic racism in the United States front and center, as well.

In fact, the Newsday article hit the newsstands just three weeks after Greene joined NAR. He said the article convinced him that not only was further Fair Housing training necessary, but also “a culture change and accountability” were in order. A few months later, the coronavirus pandemic began and while it has impacted everyone in the United States, Greene noted that it has had a disproportionate impact on the minority populations.”

He related that Fair Housing laws have been in effect for 50 years, and while Realtors receive Fair Housing training and should “understand the rules of the road, something like Newsday emerges and we discover we have a big problem still. Whatever we have been doing hasn’t been sufficient to address it. So, ‘We Need a Bigger Boat.’”

The ongoing discussions centering on the police killings and COVID-19 have brought housing into focus and the continuing problem of segregation. Greene noted that some housing advocates have stated that “as Americans, based on race, national origin, we live apart.” Greene later said that many metropolitan areas in the United States remain as segregated as they were 90 years ago.

During the webinar, Greene detailed a host of initiatives being undertaken by NAR to ensure Fair Housing regulations are adhered to by its members.

Back in January, the leadership of the National Association of Realtors unanimously passed a Fair Housing Action Plan which it said would distinguish NAR as a national industry leader on fair housing.

NAR re-organized in the summer of 2019 to create a new Fair Housing Policy Committee so NAR could more effectively advocate on national fair housing policy. NAR later hired Greene as its Director of Fair Housing Policy. He previously served at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 29 years, where he was the top career official overseeing enforcement of the federal Fair Housing Act.

NAR stated the Newsday investigation underscored the need for NAR to further ramp up and reinvigorate its fair housing commitment.

NAR’s new Fair Housing Action Plan, abbreviated ‘ACT,’ emphasizes (A)ccountability, (C)ulture Change, and (T)raining in order to ensure America’s 1.4 million Realtors are doing everything possible to protect housing rights in America. Among other things, the plan specifically commits NAR to:

• Work closely with State Association Executives to ensure that state licensing laws include effective fair-housing training requirements and hold real estate agents accountable to their fair housing obligations;

• Launch a Public-Service Announcement Campaign that reaffirm NAR’s commitment to fair housing, and how consumers can report problems;

• Integrate fair housing into all Realtor conferences and engagements;

• Explore the creation of a voluntary self-testing program, in partnership with a fair housing organization, as a resource for brokers and others who want confidential reports on agent practices so they can address problems;

• Create more robust fair housing education, including unconscious-bias training, and education on how the actions of Realtors shape communities.

• Conduct a national study to determine what factors motivate discrimination in sales market

• Profile leaders who exemplify the best fair housing practices and workplace diversity

• Develop materials to help Realtors provide consumers with information on schools that avoids fair housing pitfalls.

The sponsors of the HGAR Fair Housing Summit were: Dolgetta Law, PLLC; Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.; Judicial Title Insurance Agency, LLC; Family First Funding, LLC; Mark’s Inspections; Stone Home Inspections, LLC and Quintessential Mortgage Group.

HGAR’s Haggerty during the webinar noted a number of changes/initiatives the association have undertaken in terms of Fair Housing.

He noted that HGAR has completely revamped its “Fair Housing Took Kit” that is located on the association’s website at hgar.com. The changes were spearheaded by HGAR’s Fair Housing Committee chaired by Baumen and HGAR’s Director of Member Engagement Jana Currier. Among the Fair Housing tools on the HGAR website include a very informative NAR video entitled: “Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing.”

HGAR has also partnered with the Business Council of Westchester on a series of Anti-Racism webinars. The first webinar entitled “Unconscious Bias” was very well received. The second webinar was held this morning (July 16) and featured James Francis of Balancing Life’s Issues, who discussed: “Fostering Inclusion in the Workplace.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth