NAREB’s Irving Cham Advocates for Financial Literacy and Homeownership

We’re closing out our National Fair Housing Month blog series with Irving Cham, member of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) and Branch Vice President/Broker Manager with Coldwell Banker Realty, who sat down with me to share more about the role that real estate agents play in this environment and how they can help deliver homes and stability to those that need it.

Gehringer: How is your organization focused on tackling fair housing issues in 2023?

At NAREB we’re working on tackling issues around homeownership, specifically related to millennials, because that’s where the biggest percentage of the Black population in the U.S. currently lies. Here are some stats that illustrate just how much opportunity we have:

  • The median age of Black Americans is 33, right around key homebuying age.
  • Of the 83.1 million millennials in the country, 14% are Black. That’s 11.5 million potential homeowners!
  • Additionally, 30% of Black Americans are under the age of 20. This means we have to tackle issues like financial literacy, homeownership and building generational wealth at a really young age.

What we’ve been doing is going out to high schools to share information on these things, as well as teaching them about careers in real estate. For example, if we could get more people of color to become appraisers, it could help with appraiser bias. Right now more than 80% of appraisers are white, and bias is still a huge issue for people of color.

I’ve recruited a couple of agents from different high schools in the New Jersey area and they’re all doing phenomenally well. With the success of speaking to high school students, we are also working to get into colleges to have those same conversations about financial literacy, credit awareness and building generational wealth that are helping to change the narrative.

Gehringer: What are the dynamics and obstacles impacting Black homeownership?

The number one issue that we should tackle, at a legislative level, is exclusionary zoning. This is the use of zoning ordinances to place restrictions on the types of homes that can be built in a particular neighborhood, which often discriminates against people of color.

There are municipalities, towns and cities that only allow single family homes to be built on a 2,500-foot acre lot. One could easily convert that lot into a two-family home or add an accessible dwelling unit on the property. These are solutions to the housing shortage that would also allow people to build wealth by maximizing their property.

As people relocate, the U.S. population is constantly growing, as is the cost of living. The only way to offset these changes is through increasing housing inventory. For example, Houston doesn’t have as many exclusionary zoning laws and their real estate industry and towns are booming. Companies are moving there and people are moving there because families are able to live comfortably and build wealth.

I would love to tackle this at a high level. Eliminating these laws would be a driving factor for more inventory and could help spark a real estate boom. It wouldn’t just benefit one community; it would benefit all communities. Several organizations are also trying to push for change in the way that home offers are presented, making sure that they’re anonymous so that the only thing buyers and sellers are able to see are numbers – that in itself would change so many things but it requires support from everyone.

Gehringer: How has fair housing and wealth equality progressed?

The conversation has changed drastically. Even just five years ago we were not having the conversations we are having today that are actively tackling issues, and it’s through these conversations that problems get solved. The more people we talk to, the greater chance we have at connecting with the right people who can hear our concerns and help spark significant change. Throughout history, the biggest changemakers have been the different communities that have galvanized to come up with solutions together.

Part of this progress is due to increased conversations on social media platforms like TikTok. There was an interesting movement during the COVID-19 pandemic of people discussing topics like wealth building and having multiple streams of income. Homeownership and investments were a huge part of that conversation.

In addition, the Biden-Harris administration just passed a mortgage insurance premium deduction. This will reduce Federal Housing Administration (FHA) annual mortgage insurance premiums by 0.30 percentage points and is projected to help homeowners save an average of $900 per year, based on the average home price of $300,000 – so we’re seeing legislation progress as well. This is big, specifically because many Black homebuyers take out FHA loans.

Gehringer: What can every agent do going forward?

The most important thing is to think of every client as a family member. It’s not about us chasing money or success, it’s about us changing the lives of families by giving them a great environment and creating that opportunity for them to build generational wealth.

Creating stability for families and for kids is invaluable. Moving around constantly can take a toll and there are countless stories about how the entire trajectory of a family changes after they find a stable home. Real estate agents can make a huge impact by incorporating this knowledge into their work.

When you’re selling homes, you want to be fair, you want to make sure that you’re doing the right thing, no matter the color, race, sexual orientation, etc. It’s about people, right? Doing right on the ground level, as well as having these higher level, thoughtful and intentional conversations, is key to being the change we want to see.

Advocating for change beyond National Fair Housing Month

While National Fair Housing Month is coming to a close, it’s important to keep these conversations going. Read what other leaders shared with us throughout this blog series. I encourage everyone to listen to their local leaders to find out how to get involved and continue advocating for change.

Senior Manager, Public Relations & Giving for Coldwell Banker. Grew up in Sarasota and attended college at Western Carolina University. Athena wanted to wake up in that city that doesn’t sleep so headed to Madison Avenue to start her marketing career. She has been with this awesome brand for more than 15 years and can be found generating buzz about CB in every way possible. Athena helps to grow the brand’s position as the most storied real estate company within the industry and has led many high-profile endeavors; she was at the forefront of the brand’s pioneering smart home campaign, raised $6 million in two years to build 130 Habitat for Humanity homes, and led the Homes for Dogs program in partnership with that resulted in tens-of-thousands of dogs finding their furever home. She currently leads the CB Supports St. Jude program, which encourages the Coldwell Banker network’s 96,000+ real estate agents to make donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for every real estate transaction they represent. In her spare time, you can find her either digging up a new area in her yard for another flower bed or planning her next travel adventure. She's the proud mom of three cats Jolene, Ziggy and Lucy.

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