Chicago Association of Realtors hosts racial wealth gap panel discussion

by Cate Hoogstraten

In recognition of Fair Housing Month, the Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR) hosted a showing of the documentary “The Color Tax: Origins of the Modern Day Racial Wealth Gap,” and held a panel discussion moderated by CAR CEO Michelle Mills Clement.

The panel included Bruce Orenstein, producer of the five-part documentary series, “Shame of Chicago”; CAR President Nykea Pippion McGriff; Lucy Baird, historian and director of community impact with Baird & Warner; Ianna Kachoris, senior director of policy and advocacy for The Chicago Community Trust; and CAR Past President Frank J. Williams.

Some companies of the Chicagoland area have proposed and made changes in order to challenge this issue, such as Baird & Warner.

“Our history really provides context and a standard for us to live up to. Throughout the years, there are various things we have done to commit to fair housing… We recently rebooted our charitable arm to focus on financial empowerment and fair housing, and we’re trying to support the opportunity for equitable home ownership through that,” Baird said.

Panelists referenced the documentary, emphasizing the importance of researching the past in order to best understand solutions for topics as complicated as systemic racism in the United States.

“The racial attitudes that we have in this country that we are trying to overcome… were really deeply entrenched in our communities back then, and we have to dislodge this mentality first. Otherwise, we just keep repeating the past,” Orenstein said.

The solution, in part, lies in better education, according to Pippion McGriff, who noted that the industry could provide more information to communities of color about rehab loans, construction loans and making opportunities available to developers of color. “There is a lack of resources available to people who may have lived in a certain community their entire life…we were not educated on the financial vehicles available to us,” she said.

Kachoris suggested that in addition to legislative changes to strengthen homeownership by people of color, regulatory changes could help move the needle, such as changes to municipal zoning codes “that allow for the kinds of density that increase affordability.”

“I would also look at the tax level,” she said. “Property taxes, tax sales, scavenger sales — how properties languish there in that process and continue to further devalue those properties and communities.”

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