We need to listen. We need to take action.

The issue of racism in this country needs more voices. It needs those of us who have not experienced it to listen to the voices it has happened to. We need to understand the overt and subtle ways it occurs. We need to learn from those experiences.

While the housing industry hasn’t always had the best history on these issues, REALTORS® and their associations at all levels have become major voices and forces for change on two of the more pressing fronts confronting the housing industry on the issue of race: fair housing and zoning.

Everyone working in real estate needs to read the Newsday investigation into Fair Housing. It shows the systemic - and, often unintended - actions real estate brokers and agents do every day that may discriminate against and/or steer prospective homebuyers. These actions have the collective effect of segregating our society and deepening the divide that we need to overcome. They should not continue, and we all need to do better about looking inward to make sure we are not doing them ourselves, and to call out others when we see these discriminatory, even if unintended, actions being taken.

When the Newsday article came out and I discussed it with members, many asked “Do you think it happens here? My answer is unequivocally “yes.” When I explained further, most people I talked to saw areas where agents discriminate - often unknowingly or in unintended ways. Quite simply, 51 years after the Fair Housing Act, access to housing by all without being discriminated against based on the color of your skin is still a problem in our industry.

This is why we have stepped up our efforts on Fair Housing education, offering continuing education classes on this topic that conform to and go beyond industry best practices, and have built strong partnerships with organizations such as the Housing Assistance Corporation that work to create sorely needed housing opportunities and access in our region. But, there is much more to be done and we acknowledge that we must do better. To that end, we are committed to continually looking at what we can do as an association to make meaningful changes to address racial injustice in our community.

One of the challenges with institutional racism is that over time many people have no idea of a policy's racist roots. Most people on Cape Cod, perhaps even most REALTORS®, may have bought into the idea of our current zoning laws - on Cape Cod and all over the country - as something that has always been that way and are there to protect community character.

Zoning around the country is deeply rooted in racism and tied to this country’s history around access to fair housing. Undoing racist policies means taking a fresh look at the original purpose of laws and policies, their current effects, and advocating for change when needed.

I urge you to get listen, but more importantly, get involved. Educate yourself on your responsibility to fair housing and why fair housing is good for everyone. Encourage your select board or planning board to revisit zoning bylaws and see where we can right the wrongs that we have institutionalized. Look inside yourself and commit to being a better advocate for fair housing in our communities, and to ensure that you are treating all clients with dignity and respect.