As I’ve shared the news of becoming President with family and friends, I am often asked – ‘is that a big deal?’ I’m always a little unsure how to answer. Am I a big deal? I like to think so but probably not. Is GPAR a big deal? Absolutely.
GPAR has over 3,600 members locally and the National Association of Realtors® is America’s largest trade association. NAR is one of the most powerful political lobbies in the country. At the local and state level, GPAR plays a major role in steering housing policy and protecting property rights. And GPAR is responsible for maintaining, and enforcing, professional standards and the code of ethics for our members.
It is our code of ethics that sets Realtors® apart, but the code of ethics also has a complicated history. In 1924, it was our code of ethics that helped codify segregation in national housing policy. Realtors® block-busted and flamed white-flight. They turned a blind eye to redlining.
- 1974. Fifty years later and six years AFTER the Civil Rights Act enacted Fair Housing Laws, which NAR opposed, Realtors® finally got proactive in being anti-discriminatory based on race.
- 2014. 40 years later, the code changed to include the LGBTQ community.
- 2019. Newsday exposes wildly discriminatory realtor practices in Long Island and the New York State Association of Realtors® is taking serious and overdue action in response.
And until just last year, the code of ethics allowed Realtors® to be racist and discriminatory in their daily lives as long as they didn’t do it while showing someone a house.
Many of us here strive to be better and do the right thing at all times. But we are living in an unprecedented time of incredible division. We live in a city with extreme poverty and extreme wealth – Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of all major cities. We live in a city that has been greatly impacted by segregation. And while much of this is not our fault, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to do what we can.
I have no idea how you fix poverty and social and racial injustice. I do believe increasing homeownership and developing affordable housing is a good place to start, and understanding the problem, and its roots, is key to fixing the problem.
One of my first goals as President is to get as many of our members as possible to read The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. The book presents a stark look at how our government (through housing policy/FHA/VA/banking regulation/public housing) was deliberately responsible for segregation and the impact it has had on our communities. Realtors® helped and benefited the whole time.
It’s a heavy read, both in its content and its emotional toll. It’s sad and terrifying and infuriating. I had to set the book down several times and walk away.
Everyone on GPAR’s board and committees is receiving a copy from me. I am happy to provide a copy to anyone if you promise to pass it forward to another Realtor® after you read it.
We are planning programming around the book for later this year. It’s easy to pretend this was a practice by a few bad apples a long time ago, the kind of thing we learn about in history books, but understanding how prevalent and systemic these practices were (and still are), and the longstanding impact they’ve had in our communities is imperative to fixing them.
At the end of the day, we help people achieve the American dream. We help people find and provide shelter, and build the foundation for intergenerational wealth for their families. We have much to be proud of and the ship is headed in the right direction.
In 2020, NAR President Charlie Oppler offered an emotional apology on behalf of the industry for NAR’s actions during a large part of the 20th century. In his apology, Oppler said: “What Realtors® did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals. It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality. I’m here today, as the President of the National Association of Realtors®, to say that we were wrong. We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past, but we can look this problem squarely in the eye. And, on behalf of our industry, we can say that what Realtors® did was shameful, and we are sorry.”
I believe in everything Oppler said and now it is our responsibility to make sure that this apology carries meaningful action and a lasting impact behind it.
I challenge us as members to change the game. Let’s increase the rate of black homeownership in Philadelphia. Let’s increase the rate of minority Realtors® in our industry. Let’s continue the work of limiting wholesaler’s ability to take advantage of families. Let’s broaden our efforts to identify bad actors in our industry and hold them accountable. Let’s work with unlikely stakeholders in the city to improve Philadelphia for all Philadelphians.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has been a part of this opportunity and our success at GPAR. Our CEO, Matt Braden and the professional staff – Donna, Cheryl, Jeanna and Melody – they make so much of what we do a reality. We all owe a deep gratitude and appreciation to the staff for their tireless work.
To Heather Petrone-Shook – this is all your fault. I mean, thank you for pushing me to get involved.
To Stephanie, the board and nominating committee, committee leaders and members, thank you for your support and contribution to GPAR. At the end of the day, we are a volunteer based organization and we are nothing without our members.
To everyone at Elfant Wissahickon Realtors® and the Karrie Gavin Group, there are just so many names to name – Butter, Paul, Bob, Katey, Karrie, Asher and I could keep going – I wouldn’t be here without you.
And finally, to my family…Sam – I mean Mom, the best conveyancer in Philadelphia and Dad – sorry I never made it to law school but this is pretty cool…I wouldn’t be the person I am without you. And to Caylynn and Elijah, I love you and I’m so grateful for your support. I couldn’t do this without you.
In closing, here is a fun fact, I listened to a lot of hip-hop growing up, I still do. And as I’ve been thinking a lot about this speech, and GPAR and what we do, this one lyric has stayed with me.
Make Money; Don’t let the money make you.
Change the game; Don’t let the game change you.
Let’s change the game.