California Realtors Apologize for Role in Racist Housing Policies

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A 1937 Oakland and Berkeley 'residential security map' created by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. (Courtesy of University of Maryland's T-Races project)

The California Association of Realtors is apologizing for its role in pushing policies that drove racial segregation in the state, decades after the group put its money behind a proposition that overturned the state’s first fair housing law.

During a press conference Friday, leaders of multiple real estate organizations spoke about their next steps, following the association's apology last week. The realtors' group is now backing a bill that would overturn a law that makes it harder for the state to build affordable housing. The group is partnering with nonprofits focused on expanding homeownership among communities of color. It also pushed for a law requiring implicit-bias training for real estate agents.

“This has been a very long time coming,” said Derrick Luckett, chair of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an association that has expressed a commitment to expanding intergenerational wealth among Black households.

The California Association of Realtors was one of many real estate groups that supported redlining, barriers to affordable housing projects, and other practices of the 20th century that led to more segregated cities across the United States.

During the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, backed by the federal government, created maps that categorized parts of cities into grades based on their purported creditworthiness. The practice, now known as redlining, drove racial segregation and income inequality by preventing residents living in certain neighborhoods from receiving loans.

The California Association of Realtors, then known as the California Real Estate Association, paid for a campaign to add an amendment to the state constitution in 1950 forcing the government to get voter approval before spending public money on affordable housing. In more recent decades, the group has supported repealing the amendment.

In 1964, the association put its money behind a proposition to invalidate the Rumford Act, a law aimed at protecting people of color from discrimination while they were searching for a home.

In 2020, following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which led to global demonstrations against racism and police violence, the National Association of Realtors apologized for its role in housing discrimination. Real estate groups in cities including St. Louis and Minneapolis have recently followed suit.

Otto Catrina, president of the California Association of Realtors, said Friday that its apology follows one by the group's former president in its magazine last year. But this apology is more formal, since it's gone through the approval of the association's board.

“For many of our members, this apology reflects the organization that we are today and are continuing to work to foster inclusion and belonging for all our members and our communities,” Catrina said.

The National Association of Realtors reports that the homeownership rate for Black Americans is 43% compared to 72% for white Americans. Black homeowners also have reported that the value of their home appraisals increases when they strip away any sign of a Black family living there.

The image of a document from the 1930s.
A 1937 Oakland area description from the Home Owners' Loan Corporation. Among the 'detrimental influences' listed in the document are 'predominance of foreign elements' and 'infiltration by Negroes and Orientals.' (Courtesy of University of Maryland's T-Races project)

Eli Knaap, associate director of San Diego State University's Center for Open Geographical Science, said the apology comes when there's overwhelming evidence that the legacy of discriminatory housing policies hinders families' ability to build wealth.

“The greatest source of wealth for most families is in their home,” he said.

Knaap, who's studied the lasting impacts of practices like redlining that drove racial segregation, said some local governments now implement what's known as inclusionary zoning where a portion of units in a residential development need to be affordable for lower-income residents.

In June, California's first-in-the-nation reparations task force released an exhaustive report that listed housing segregation as one of the many harms Black Californians faced long after the abolition of slavery. As the task force deliberates on what form reparations could take, economists are working to put dollar figures on the lasting impacts of these harms.

The California Association of Realtors hasn't taken an official stance on reparations but will review policy recommendations made by the task force, Catrina said Friday.

Matt Lewis, spokesperson for housing advocacy group California YIMBY, said it's important for the realtors' association to be clear about what steps it will take to address the lingering effects of discriminatory policies it supported.

“An apology is always backward-looking, so it’s important to try to correct the damage you did," Lewis said. "But the next step is, so what are you going to do about it?”

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