The housing industry has a diversity problem. Data from the US Census Bureau, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, and the Brookings Institute point to an industry that is overwhelmingly white, even as the country becomes increasingly diverse. 71.6% of all skilled workers in the housing industry are white, although they only make up 60.1% of the population. Over the past two decades, the housing industry’s workforce grew 66% while the numbers of Hispanic, Latino and Black American grew only 5% and 1.98%, respectively. Those numbers are even clearer at the higher end of the industry: the number of Hispanic CEOs in the housing industry is only increasing 4.15% and the number of black CEOs is only increasing by 0.34%. If the current rate of change continues, it will take 114 years for the diversity of the housing industry to reflect the diversity of our overall population.
Fannie Mae is trying to change that. Fannie is using his position to diversify the housing industry through an initiative called Future Housing Leaders (FHL), which was launched in 2018. The FHL program connects college students with paid summer internships and early career opportunities in the housing industry and emphasizes opportunities for historically underrepresented groups.
Kenneth Imo (pictured), Vice President of Minority and Women’s Inclusion at Fannie Mae, spoke to MPA about how the program will accelerate the pace of change and why the entire mortgage industry should get on board.
“With Future Housing Leaders, we offer the industry a service by visiting schools, colleges and universities, especially historically black colleges and universities, as well as Spanish-speaking institutes, and doing everything we can to reach these students early on and raise their awareness for a career in the housing industry, ”said Imo. “With Fannie Mae’s reach and position in the housing industry, we reached out to our service, banking and mortgage lending partners, explained this initiative and informed them that we will provide them with a list of talented candidates to assist with support efforts for diversity, equity and inclusion. “
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Imo stated that the FHL program aims to educate young people about the housing industry at an early stage. Coming from marginalized communities can mean children away from the kitchen table conversations about home ownership, personal finances, and mortgages that other more privileged children may know. They may not know how much money someone can make as a real estate agent or loan officer, and even if they do, they may not know how to get started in this area. The FHL program aims to fill this gap.
Eliminating the diversity gap in the housing industry will also go a long way in addressing the legacy of systemic racism in home ownership. Studies with unconscious bias have shown that real estate and property professionals may steer a Black or Latin American buyer towards a more monolithic neighborhood and not show them homes they can afford in traditionally white neighborhoods. Problems have also been raised with appraisals, with appraisers considering houses at a lower price when their owners are people of color. Bringing different perspectives into the industry, said Imo, will help eradicate these unconscious prejudices before they become entangled in the underlying systems of the housing industry.
Having a more diverse workforce at a real estate agency or mortgage broker, Imo said, can lead to brief moments of discomfort or clash when different perspectives come to a head, but it also leads to more creativity, collaboration and better customer service. With the FHL program, Fannie is also trying to make running mortgage companies more diverse. This in turn should lead to more experience and knowledge at the forefront of our industry.
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Imo believes that improving diversity in the housing sector and home ownership is a monumental task and cannot be done by one company or initiative alone. However, he believes the FHL program will help accelerate and improve the pace of change in this industry. He believes it is something to drive that change Mortgage professionals can come after.
“The past 14 months have shown that in the absence of deliberate efforts to address systemic inequality, we will do little more than progress gradually,” said Imo. “There’s a quote from Dr. King that says, ‘We shouldn’t fall prey to the sedative drug of gradualism.’ And the FHL keeps us from falling into the trap of gradualism. It’s a coercive mechanism that allows companies that work with us to make significant progress. “