NAREB’s Lydia Pope Talks Fair Housing And The Fight For Equality


On May 25, 2020, millions of Americans were stunned by a Facebook livestream showing George Floyd pleading for help as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The news of Floyd’s murder ignited protests in Minneapolis and cities around the world, as the Black community called for accountability and justice.

In the midst of conversations about systemic racism in law enforcement, the real estate industry had time to look in the mirror, too — decades of redlining, segregation, discrimination, gentrification and scant financial access had placed Black Americans behind the eight ball.

Leaders from across the industry responded with diversity initiatives and pledges, stronger fair housing courses, zero-tolerance discrimination policies, historic apologies and increased support of minority-focused associations, such as the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB).

NAREB, the oldest minority trade group in the country, has seized the moment with greater visibility, a new partnership with HomeLight to reduce barriers for aspiring Black real estate agents, and the election of longtime member Lydia Pope as its new president.

As she gears up for her inauguration in June, Pope sat down with Inman to share her thoughts on fair housing, the solutions to reversing decades of discrimination, and her goals for NAREB.

Before our conversation, I listened to your interview with Ohio Realtors. It was great to learn about your career and your long-standing commitment to NAREB. What does it mean to you to be the third-ever woman president of NAREB?

I am a past president of the Women’s Council of NAREB, which is one of our affiliate chapters. During my presidential speech in 2009, Joan Chambers and Evelyn Reed, who was the first woman president of NAREB,  listened as I shared my vision for the council. The minute that I was done speaking, the first thing that came out of [Evelyn’s] mouth was, “You’re going to be the next woman president of NAREB.”

I’ve always been a leader, but to hear the one who has mentored me through the process make that comment meant the world to me. I’d never thought of being a woman president for NAREB, but when that opportunity came, I ran right to it. I thought it would really be important to break some glass ceilings because there’s been a lot of organizations that were always male-dominated where very few women had a voice and a presence.

I wanted women to know that you can also be a leader as well, even within an organization that out of 30 presidents, 28 of them were men.

I definitely understand the power of mentorship. Now that you’re here, what are your main priorities for NAREB? 

We have five pillars at NAREB and the purpose of the five pillars connects to educating the community we’re serving about homeownership. When it comes to homeownership education, what we’re really dealing with is the issue of multi-generational wealth.

When you go back in history, our parents owned their homes through land contracts, and as that window of land contracts began to die off, then you notice homeownership [as we think of it now].

We want to start with our youth and educate them about the history of Black homeownership. That includes programs in high schools and colleges, so that young people understand finances, credit, wealth building and homeownership. If you don’t teach them about finances now, it gets harder to do so when they get older.

For millennials, who are one of the highest-ranking generations for homebuying, we need to make sure they understand the programs that are available to them, even as they go through some barriers, such as student loans.

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Then we can’t forget about our seniors who are the roots, the history and the wisdom of our community. When the foreclosures hit, a lot of our seniors got hurt tremendously because they trusted in a system that disappointed them. So we’re hitting every generation when it comes to generational wealth.

What about government advocacy? How do housing policies impact NAREB’s education and wealth-building goals?

We focus on a couple of different things. We have a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report and the State of Housing in Black America (SHIBA) report. The CBO report is designed to give an overall view of the entire economy and provide statistics as to where we are with Black homeownership. The SHIBA report covers some items that are happening now and our policy positions.

One of our policies is focusing on downpayment assistance and assuring that our community has access to that assistance. Secondly, we’re dealing with loan level pricing adjustments and making sure Black homebuyers aren’t underserved when it comes to mortgage rates because of the color of our skin.

The other [policy] is adjusting the credit scoring model so that Black Americans have an opportunity to be able to buy a home, and not be graded on a scoring model that just does not work.

The next challenge, especially with the millennials, is student loan debt. Qualifying for a home is impossible, even if you have the best score in the world, if your debt-to-income ratio is too high because of loan balances. Our goal is to work with policymakers to make adjustments to the student loan process.

At the beginning of the month, we highlight small pieces of the SHIBA report so our members can understand it, know what our policy positions are and how we’re going to handle these issues.

As NAREB is working toward systemic change, what can Black homebuyers do now to advocate for themselves and reach their homeownership and wealth-building goals? 

Thank you for asking that question. As a community, we’re still feeling the impact of not receiving any justice or any fairness when it comes to mortgages. It’s just not happening. A lot of the clients we serve as agents have high credit scores, but are being put into loans that they shouldn’t be put into.

The No. 1 thing we need in the mortgage industry is diversity, especially in the senior leadership so we can have decision-makers who understand us. We’d also like to see a change in the banks that serve Black communities and having requirements that are not based on gentrification or segregation, but rather based on things that the community needs.

In addition, we also want the look at state and local governments because you can go to them a little bit faster than the federal government. We’d love for them to update their fair housing and fair lending laws, and add the needed protections not found in the federal law. They have the power to hold accountable some of these lenders and brokers discriminating against Black homebuyers and homeowners.

But, what we’re finding out is that they’re not enforcing these laws. We need more productive fair housing investigations that result in sanctions for those who violate the law. Just a [few weeks ago], one of our members went to a bank to complete paperwork for a service, and they made her go outside because they didn’t believe she was the person who made the inquiry. She was the only Black person in the bank. She was blown away.

They came back to apologize after they made her go outside to verify her identification, but she could have just been asked to step to the side. She had everything she needed, but she was still discriminated against.

I’m so sorry that happened to her. What can Black homebuyers do when they face situations like this? How can they go about finding banks, lenders or other financial institutions that will provide the service they deserve?

Financial literacy is the number one is the pathway. A lot of times, many of our homeowners are deprived [of opportunities] because of a lack of education, and when they go to apply for mortgages or loans, they have a difficult time.

Some banks require borrowers to take some type of homeownership or financial literacy workshop, and some don’t. But financial literacy, in my eyes, is the key to everything.

When HUD-approved agencies do homebuyer workshops, part of their curriculum is about fair housing and making sure Black homebuyers know they have rights too, as future homeowners. They need that type of information, they need that type of education, just to be able to know what they need to do.

It’s amazing how a consumer can go through a financial literacy class and feel more comfortable because they’re not afraid to ask questions and they’re not afraid to understand the homeownership process. A lot of times when they go buy a home, they think, “I have a 750 credit score, so maybe I should go with an FHA [loan].” They think it’s right, and it’s not because they have other products and services that can be offered to them.

Black Americans have very few banks within our communities. We can’t walk to a bank, we have to take a bus or other transportation somewhere. We don’t have any [banks] in the community that understand us and can help us.

How can the real estate industry partner with NAREB to make these changes? I’ve been writing about racism and discrimination for a few years, and last year there was a seismic shift in the industry regarding these issues and wanting to take action. 

My first suggestion is to join NAREB and support our mission and initiatives. When I want to know about an organization, I join them because sometimes you have to be involved in something to really understand it, and you have to be engaged to get the full effect. We want to train others on what NAREB has to offer and our push to increase Black homeownership, and we don’t deny membership because of the color of someone’s skin.

Being a partner, being a member of NAREB, helps you understand and engage the Black community in your area. You have to go into someone’s community, and you have to walk through the neighborhoods and see the devastation. We had a webinar several weeks ago and a pastor said, “[Black people] didn’t ask to be on food stamps, [we didn’t] ask to live in a neighborhood that’s devastated. [We] didn’t ask for this, but [we’re]in it. So how can [we] make a change?”

Being a part of the organization, walking the streets with us, listening to what we’re doing, understanding what our fight is, and then supporting our five pillars is how you can make a difference. Support the grassroots of our organization — you’ve got to be in the midst of it, rather than just reading about it.

We need to bridge the gap between [Realtor] organizations and prove this isn’t a temporary movement, but it can be a long-lasting one.

Email Marian McPherson