Richard Haggerty | May 14, 2019

Last month was Fair Housing Month, and HGAR’s Fair Housing and Cultural Diversity Committee, chaired by Dorothy Botsoe and Eydie Lopez, coordinated a wonderful event to celebrate Fair Housing Month entitled “Play by the Rules or Pay the Consequences.” The speakers were Sally Santangello, the executive director of CNY Fair Housing from Central New York, and Fred Freidberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center based in the New York City Metro area.

I was very pleased to see that the room was packed to hear these two excellent speakers share their knowledge, but the message was grim—racial segregation and active discrimination in housing continue to be a fact of life, despite the progress we have made over the last several decades.

Santangello discussed the practice of redlining, which began in the 1930s and led to the systematic denial of various services to residents of specific, often racially associated, neighborhoods or communities. She demonstrated as an example that the effects of redlining in Downtown Syracuse can still be felt to this day. Freidberg talked about specific instances of discrimination cases that are occurring in the New York City and suburban area.

What also brought the subject matter home for me was a conversation I had recently with a real estate attorney in the area that made an offhand comment that in his opinion prospective buyers often times want to live in areas or buildings where they feel “comfortable.” He specifically cited an example where senior citizens might prefer to live in a building where the residents were predominantly older with few children. This individual, who is also an elected official, indicated that he would advise his clients to be sensitive to that concern. It may have just been me, but I thought I heard an audible gasp from colleagues when this attorney said this and one even rightfully pointed out to him that as real estate professionals it is our responsibility to show all available properties to prospective purchasers based upon the criteria that they provide, and not play the role of “matchmaker” to determine where the prospective buyer would be most “comfortable.”

While the remark from the elected official may have been intended to be innocuous, the reality is that such a sentiment actually reinforces segregation. We need to remember that buyers and renters are the decision makers as to where they want to live, and we need to show them all available properties that meet their criteria. We are not “matchmakers,” we are real estate professionals who comply with all of the local, state, and federal fair housing laws, as well as the Realtor Code of Ethics.

Richard Haggerty