Realtists help Black Americans achieve homeownership

You’ve heard of a Realtor before, but have you heard of a Realtist?

Homeownership has served as a crucial stepping stone to the middle class and generational wealth. But it’s also been a hurdle for African Americans. Redlining, systemic failures and polices have long contributed to black Americans being shut out from obtaining this crucial part of the American Dream.

People like Marie Sturgell hope to change that. Not only is Sturgell a Realtor, she’s what’s known as a Realtist — someone who specializes in helping black Americans buy homes. She’s a member of The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), a trade group founded in 1947 out of the need to secure homeownership for minorities.

“We want democracy in housing — we want to democratize the process of buying a house,” said Sturgell. “We advocate to fix systemic issues that have long plagued black buyers.”

Through education, community outreach and lobbying legislators, NAREB aims to increase the number of African American homeowners. NAREB goes before organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus with their annual State of Housing in Black America report to help fight for issues that can right historical wrongs.

But what is a Realtist, really?

A Realtist is dedicated to the ideals of fairness, honesty, integrity and competence in providing services related to real estate transactions, according to the NAREB. Most Realtists are Realtors themselves, so they are able to advocate for buyers from the trenches.

There’s a lot of inequalities baked into the system, Sturgell said. For example, black homeownership has never risen above 50% of the black population, she said.

“Conversely, homeownership among the white population is more than 70%,” Sturgell said.

One piece of legislation aimed at helping things is The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was instituted in 2015. The stipulation defines fair housing to mean “housing that, among other attributes, is affordable, safe, decent, free of unlawful discrimination and accessible as required under civil rights law.”

Former President Donald Trump nullified the rule during his term, but Sturgell is hopeful President Joe Biden will reinstate it.

“We need to make sure the Community Reinvestment Act requirements are being met,” she said.

Sturgell is also passionate about helping African American Millennials achieve the dream of homeownership, but costs remain a problem.

“The average home price in San Francisco is more than 1.3 million,” she said. “One of the biggest ways Congress can help is by writing laws that will help with downpayment assistance. “We need to do more in that area.”

She’s hopeful that there will be a reintroduction of The American Dream Downpayment Savings Plan — a savings plan to help with purchasing a home. Sturgell likened it to a college savings plan.

Despite generations of inequality, both systemic and structural, Sturgell remains optimistic that progress can be made.

“We’re working on a lot of different fronts and that keeps us excited and hopeful about what we do,” she said. “So, l’m speaking from a hopeful lens that we can achieve and get our numbers up.”

CREDITS: Jordan Guinn / San Francisco Chronicle

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