“So Much Needs to Be Done”

Past CREAA Chairwoman Janice Lee on Fair Housing and Asian American Homeownership

Throughout National Fair Housing Month in April, we’ve been elevating the voices of minority communities by bringing awareness to current challenges, while also acknowledging the progress that has been made in providing equal homeownership opportunities for everyone. As part of this series, we’ve released a weekly post to give readers valuable insights on housing inequalities from industry leaders Lydia Pope, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), and Kurt Nishimura, president of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA).

This week, we had an opportunity to connect with Janice Lee, past chairwoman of the Chinese Real Estate Association of America (CREAA) and member of AREAA, who shared how fair housing has advanced over the years and the steps CREAA and AREAA are taking to continue tackling challenges.

Gehringer: How has fair housing progressed over the past few years?

Lee: Fortunately, there have been great strides in advancing fair housing initiatives and allowing underrepresented communities to fulfill their dream of homeownership. Progress started in the 1950s when a lawsuit against Asian discrimination was passed, creating an uptick in property ownership amongst the Asian community. The 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, also served as leverage in increasing homeownership among Asian Americans.

Gehringer: How is CREAA tackling fair housing issues in 2023?

Lee:  AREAA hosts a national Diversity and Fair Housing Summit in Washington, D.C., to connect community members and present issues currently affecting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) homeownership. The latter half of the year focuses on educational conferences and seminars where people from different organizations gather to discuss all topics affecting Asian Americans and real estate. In addition, CREAA hosts local real estate expos that serve to educate the community, specifically the Chinese population.

Currently, there is an issue* related to Texas Senate Bill 147, which explicitly targets and excludes property rights to certain individuals from China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. At one point, the verbiage of this law excluded green card holders from purchasing property in the United States, something that emulates exclusionary laws from the past. CREAA and AREAA are continuously working with various organizations to voice our opposition and the concerns of Asian Americans with this bill as we work to support Asian American homeownership.

Kurt also covered this issue in our conversation last week.

Gehringer: What still needs to be done to create equal housing opportunities for all?

Lee: Many fair housing issues preventing Asian Americans from purchasing their dream property stems from an increase in Asian hate and vile rhetoric. Growing up in the United States, I’ve never feared walking down the street as much as I did in the early stages of COVID-19. Increased awareness and education are the first steps towards equal homeownership opportunities. I encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and expand their knowledge on fair housing, to vote for leaders in their community who will listen to the concerns of underrepresented communities and stand alongside CREAA. Make your voice heard and help elevate the voices of those around you. The more diverse our network is, the more likely it is that our message can resonate with politicians and lawmakers.

Gehringer: Do you have any personal stories related to fair housing?

Lee: Fair housing issues differ across the country. For instance, some communities might not face problems to the same level of severity as communities in other areas of the nation do. I was born in Hong Kong and although I am a U.S. citizen, if proposals like Texas Senate Bill 147 pass, I wouldn’t be able to invest in any real estate in the state of Texas. This is especially upsetting because for generations, being able to own property was so important to my family and community as real estate investment is seen as a great way to build and grow wealth.

Striving for Change

As with Lydia Pope and Kurt Nishimura, it is a privilege to hear Janice Lee’s concerns regarding fair housing and her thoughts on needed changes. As we make our way through April and approach the end of National Fair Housing Month, we will be featuring one final Coldwell Banker-affiliated leader on the Blue Matter blog. Visit next week to read how Irving Cham, member of NAREB, is striving to spark 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 Adopt-a-Pet.com 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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