A Focus on Fair Housing in Eagle County
April is Fair Housing Month for the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Throughout the month, REALTORS® commemorate the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 with events and education shining a light on housing discrimination and segregation. Fair Housing Month signifies a recommitment to expanding equal access to housing because, according to NAR, real estate discrimination is genuine and ongoing.
Year around, through education and a partnership with Eagle County Housing and Development Authority (ECHDA), Vail Board of REALTORS® (VBR) members think globally and work locally to implement fair housing best practices while focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in our resort real estate market.
DEI is a term used to describe policies and programs promoting the representation and participation of people of different ages, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures, and sexual orientations.
Keeping DEI in focus is important because the local workforce is a crucial segment of our resort population providing quality guest services to our visitors. REALTORS® strive to ensure the basic need of housing is being met and continuously addressed with fair housing practices and thoughtful solutions to increasing home prices. Unfortunately, the gap between what our workforce earns and what they can afford continues to grow, causing our local affordability index to remain at intimidating levels.
"When someone chooses to become a Realtor, they are educated from the beginning about fair housing," says Alex Griffin, VBR Chair. "It is part of our Code of Ethics, and discrimination awareness is a high priority within our industry. I don't know of many other industries that focus on fairness as much as real estate does. Federal and equal opportunity housing is always discussed. From our initial certification to maintaining licenses and continuing education."
According to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Civil Rights Division, fair housing laws ensure everyone has equal access to the housing of their choice. These laws apply to landlords, real estate brokers, mortgage lenders, homeowner associations, among others. Moreover, the State of Colorado was the first in the nation to pass statewide fair housing laws in 1959, barring discrimination in housing, nine years before the signing of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Connecting DEI with Fair Housing
According to NAR, the commitment to DEI is perhaps the strongest in real estate, even going farther than the Fair Housing Act, which does not include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes against housing discrimination. Fair Housing legislation is made stronger by incorporating DEI policies and programs.
While the VBR educates our local REALTOR® community, the ECHDA offers equitable learning opportunities for those competing in a challenging local market, including homeownership information to our Spanish speaking community, coordinated by Jesus Camunez at The Valley Home Store in Edwards.
"We offer a Spanish language homebuyer's class and two FAQ classes explaining how to qualify and apply for deed-restricted homes, affordable housing programs, down payment assistance, and how to add a deed restriction to an open market property, says Camunez." Depending on how successful these classes are, we will increase these opportunities in the future. I look forward to reaching a population that has not been reached before in our community."
Knowledge of DEI provides context for REALTORS® to deliver thoughtfully appropriate service, says Griffin. "Language and vernacular changes frequently to accommodate society. For instance: It's not a 'master' bedroom anymore. It's the 'primary' bedroom. It's not a 'Jack and Jill' bathroom. It's a 'dual entrance' bathroom. Older terms are continuously recognized and updated. When there's a movement across the country, the VBR makes a point to share it locally."
Griffin continues, "A great example of equity is a point system The Valley Home Store uses to help qualify applicants for deed-restricted homes. Applicants can gain points based on their need. A greater need equates to more points, including but not limited to having children, employment status, and length of time an applicant has been employed in the valley. The points system works in tandem with the lottery system."
A critical population
From our frontline workers in retail, the hospitality sector, health care workers, teachers, early childhood educators, and daycare workers, all these people are essential to our community. All deserve a fair opportunity to fulfill a dream of homeownership.
Recent responses from a Mountain Migration Survey revealed for sale home inventory is at historic lows and rental inventory is largely non-existent. Incoming location-neutral workers with higher incomes will not be filling local jobs and are out-competing local workers for housing. And current home prices are at record highs with rents increasing 20 to 40 percent in one year. All of this directly impacts many of our locals, according to Gerardo Avila, a licensed REALTOR® with first-hand experience navigating these challenges for his clients.
"Approximately 80 percent of my clientele are hourly rate earners, mostly Hispanic, and they all struggle to afford the current housing opportunities," says Avila. "Many of my clients are left with very little housing to choose from. Deed restricted homes are an option, but many would prefer to have an open market property and benefit from the equity earned in owning a home. Some of my clients, who have been able to start and manage their own businesses can better compete in the real estate market. But, in some cases, three or four families will pool their financial resources together to try to secure a home. It is not ideal."
Celebrate the solutions
The VBR works with the ECHDA to understand and respond to housing needs and has made significant donations to the Eagle County Loan Fund, a down payment assistance program. REALTORS® are the connection between attainable housing and those in need of it.
The ECHDA's Bold Moves Housing Initiative addresses the challenges of our current housing crisis by acknowledging the worsening effects on the local housing market due to the increase in the demand for homes, sharp increases in home prices, and low inventory, combined with "mountain migration" that has brought more cash buyers to the Vail Valley marketplace. Current Bold Moves include an emergency housing homeless response, rental assistance, down payment assistance that can be combined with loans, and the Good Deeds incentive program that encourages adding a deed restriction to an open market home in exchange for a cash purchase at closing. More initiatives are in the works.
By educating REALTORS®, our community has more housing opportunities. "The VBR works diligently to keep our entire membership informed through our advocacy and community involvement," says Griffin. "We invite the Housing Authority to present the current housing climate and solutions that are available, and we use multiple tiers of communication to keep our real estate community engaged and informed."