On December 9, 1965, Gov. Warren Knowles signed the Wisconsin Fair Housing Law, making it illegal to discriminate against someone in housing transactions.

Since that time, considerable progress has been made to ensure housing equity, but there’s still more work to do.

This work is crucial every day with every transaction, but because April is Fair Housing Month, the Greater Milwaukee Association of REALTORS (GMAR) is putting increased focus on the programming we’ve created to ensure that Milwaukee-area Realtors are the leading proponents for furthering fair housing.

With these programs, GMAR members are demonstrating a recommitment to the efforts to expand equal access to housing that began with laws enacted in the late 1960s.

Federal and state fair housing laws make it unlawful to discriminate in housing based on the following protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • National origin/ancestry
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Familial status
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Lawful source of income
  • Sexual orientation
  • Status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual abuse or stalking

The GMAR recognizes that there’s always a need for ongoing education and training for members when it comes to fair housing laws. We are committed to continuing to overcome the “muscle memory” of unconscious bias that developed over generations.

Our programming is guided, in part, by the city of Milwaukee’s 2020 Milwaukee Regional Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing. This report took an in-depth look at some problems in the region and suggested that the real estate industry could help address racial and ethnic disparities in mortgage lending, insurance and appraisal practices, as well as address a lack of awareness of fair housing laws.

In Feb. 2021, the GMAR’s Equal Opportunity Committee met and agreed that discrimination does indeed continue to impact the communities we serve, as well as the livelihood of our members. Based on the discussions, the committee suggested that education was needed and the GMAR members should lead by example.

Not just in April, but throughout the year, the GMR is dedicated to breaking down these potential biases, holding ourselves accountable and upholding the letter and spirit of the law.

But we are not just hammering the law into our members’ heads and saying we’ve done our job. Our programs go beyond simply disseminating information. The goal is to have our 5,500 members become advocates for fair housing and have them carry the torch that started more than five decades ago.

A significant facet of our efforts is providing GMAR members with information on protected classes, guidance on how to avoid unwittingly discriminating against buyers or sellers and what specifically to watch out for.

In addition, we are focused on creating engaging activities—not just for the leadership, but all the way through to the rank-and-file members of the organization.

We’ve developed training videos, podcasts and other materials that balance a serious subject with a friendly, accessible approach that appeals to all of our members—especially the younger demographic of members that are coming into our association.

Our goal is to make sure that the progress we’ve made in fair housing doesn’t cause us to become complacent. While, thankfully, we are past the block-busting techniques and panic-inducing selling campaigns of the past, today’s inequity can come in the form of more subtle, careless words and actions and preconceived notions that we still need to address.

For instance, if a REALTOR is working with someone who is of a protected class, they may treat that person differently by automatically assuming that they want to look in a certain area of the city. It’s a matter of equipping our members with objective criteria and reinforcing the core idea that the buyers make the decision where they want to live.

The progress made in the area of fair housing has been the result of years of hard work by a lot of committed individuals. The GMAR is honoring their efforts by doing whatever it takes to keep housing equity in our region moving in the right direction.

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