Recognizing biases, understanding fair housing laws and working toward inclusiveness were key topics emphasized during Tuesday night's diversity and fair housing presentation at the Capitol City Cinema.
About 20 people attended the event, hosted by the Jefferson City Human Relations Commission and Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors. At the event, Michele Sloan — owner of 1st Choice Real Estate School and Michele Sloan LLC, with more than 30 years of licensed experience — gave examples of different biases and fair housing laws, as well as how those could impact real estate agents and society.
Sloan is also an approved instructor of the National Association of Realtors's program "At Home with Diversity," which is a class that teaches real estate professionals how to address diversity, fair housing and cultural difference issues.
Since real estate agents work with a wide-range of individuals, Sloan said, it's important they recognize bias and understand the fair housing laws. However, these topics are not just for real estate agents, she added — everyone should understand bias and fair housing.
"It will help bring our country together because we're recognizing and embracing the differences that we all have," she said. "I think a lot of us, unfortunately, lack that. We tend to hang out with people who are similar to us versus people who are different than us. The more we get to know each other, the more we can all grow together as a country, as a world, as a community."
The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 bans discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, familial status, religion or national origin when selling or renting a home. Along with these seven categories, Sloan said, states and cities have added their own categories. Missouri states someone can not discriminate against someone based on ancestry when selling or renting a dwelling, she added.
While she went over the different laws, the differences and how those play into real estate, the audience engaged the most when Sloan addressed bias and the different forms it can take — unconscious bias, conformity bias, similarity bias, media bias and advertising bias, to name a few.
To fight these biases, Sloan recommended real estate agents and the community recognize different perspectives; be open and seek different ideas; develop friendships with various people; treat others how they want to be treated; learn how other cultures communicate; observe diverse traditions, celebrations and holidays from other cultures; and display diversity.
Sarah Fontaine, a Realtor with the Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors, said she is always looking for educational programs for both real estate agents and the general public.
"As Realtors, we're definitely big on education and not only for ourselves but for the community and what role we play in fair housing and that type of thing in the community," she said. "We really want the community to know we are aware of it and we take steps and do things to make sure we are fair in our housing."
The Human Relations Commission and Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors may turn this diversity training into an annual event, commission chair Mitchell Woodrum said.