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Fair Housing: Not Just an Issue for U.S. Realtors

An Ontario RE association report claims Canadian Realtors and clients face racism and discrimination, but there’s “no efficient way … to report such incidents.”

TORONTO, Canada – Realtors® and their clients are facing racism and discrimination during the home buying and selling process, but there are no efficient ways for consumers to report such incidents, says new research from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).

The Fighting for Fair Housing report released by the provincial body found more than one-third of real estate agents have experienced discrimination or racism, and one in four BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) brokers say a client has refused to work with them because of their identity.

The survey of 1,500 consumers and 2,000 agents conducted by research firm Ipsos revealed that two in 10 consumers say they have been treated unfairly because of their identity, with those who are Black, Indigenous or of color and LGBTQ2S+ individuals more likely to report such treatment.

“I have Caucasian real estate agents coming up to me all the time going, ‘my client is Black, their credit score is over 750, they are making gobs of money, they’ve got a really good job in financial services, and we keep getting turned down for rentals,” said Davelle Morrison, chair of OREA’s presidential advisory group on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“It becomes obvious, even to the Caucasian Realtors, that wait a second, something’s up.”

Stories like these have long been rife in the real estate industry, but Morrison, also a Toronto broker with Bosley Real Estate Ltd., said OREA felt the need to look further into them when George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed in police custody in 2020, prompting global outrage.

The committee Morrison chairs was assembled in response in the second half of 2020 and shortly after embarked on this report, which has turned out to be an eyeopener.

“When OREA went out with … the questionnaire, they actually got some angry emails from Caucasian agents who did not believe that racism was an issue,” she recalled.

The results show otherwise and have prompted the group to issue a series of recommendations for the province and sector. One of their most pressing asks is for a process where complaints about racism and discrimination in the sector can easily be registered, investigated and result in stronger penalties.

Those wanting to make complaints currently have to turn to the Real Estate Council of Ontario, said Morrison.

However, OREA’s report said it’s “widely acknowledged” that there is “no easy, efficient and safe reporting mechanism” for buyers and agents and the “burden of proof is too high for an industry that is veiled in secrecy and relies on the spoken versus written word” because of the nature of many interactions.

“If Realtors do bear witness to discrimination, they weigh the pros and cons, and with few exceptions, determine that it’s not worth addressing because they feel powerless to affect change,” the report said.

OREA also wants the equal treatment of all individuals mandated in (Canada’s) Condominium Act because 43% of Realtors say they’ve seen a rental deal fall through because of discrimination.

“There was a condo building maybe about a year ago on Bay Street (in Toronto), where two men wanted to live in the condo and the condo board were denying them because they were LGBTQ+,” Morrison said. “It’s 2021 and you’re telling me that gay people can’t live together? That’s ridiculous.”

OREA has similarly noticed there is a mounting number of people who have come forward with concerns about Ontario condominium rules that require units be for “single families,” thus excluding LGBTQ2S+ couples, single parents, and other family types.

The province should update the Condominium Act to include a broad and inclusive definition of “single family,” OREA said.

Also figuring into its demands are moves to make homeownership more accessible for all by reducing government-imposed costs on new rental projects and building 99,000 community housing units over the next 10 years.

Reducing costs will help those least likely to own homes get into the market, OREA posits.

It pointed out that Statistics Canada data from 2018 found 72% of people in Ontario who are not a visible minority own their homes compared with 43% of Black respondents, 50% of Indigenous respondents and 67% of other visible minorities.

About 71% of heterosexual persons are homeowners, whereas only 47% of those who identify as homosexual or bisexual are homeowners, the data also said.

One of the biggest roadblocks in the homeownership process for these groups is obtaining a mortgage.

OREA’s data concluded that 16% of consumers faced challenges in the mortgage process due to their race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. About 22% said their bank or mortgage provider caused the racism or discrimination and 6% even changed banks or providers because of their treatment.

To help these groups afford homes, OREA wants the province to encourage the expansion of affordable homeownership programs for disadvantaged communities and have proceeds reinvested into new social housing stock, grants, rebates, low interest loans and rent subsidies.

© 2022 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.