Facing racism and discrimination during the home buying and selling process

Davelle Morrison

Realtors and their clients are facing racism and discrimination during the home buying and selling process, but there are no efficient ways for consumers to report such incidents, says new research from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).

The Fighting for Fair Housing report released by the provincial body Tuesday found more than one-third of real estate agents have experienced discrimination or racism and one in four BIPOC brokers say a client has refused to work with them because of their identity.

The survey of 1,500 consumers and 2,000 agents conducted by research firm Ipsos revealed that two in 10 consumers say they have been treated unfairly because of their identity, with those who are Black, Indigenous or of colour and LGBTQ2S+ individuals more likely to report such treatment.

“I have Caucasian real estate agents coming up to me all the time going, ‘my client is Black, their credit score is over 750, they are making gobs of money, they’ve got a really good job in financial services and we keep getting turned down for rentals,” said Davelle Morrison, chair of OREA’s presidential advisory group on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“It becomes obvious, even to the Caucasian Realtors, that wait a second, something’s up.”

Stories like these have long been rife in the real estate industry, but Morrison, also a Toronto broker with Bosley Real Estate Ltd., said OREA felt the need to look further into them when George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was killed in police custody in 2020, prompting global outrage.

The committee Morrison chairs was assembled in response in the second half of 2020 and shortly after embarked on this report, which has turned out to be an eyeopener.

“When OREA went out with … the questionnaire, they actually got some angry emails from Caucasian agents who did not believe that racism was an issue,” she recalled.

The results show otherwise and have prompted the group to issue a series of recommendations for the province and sector.

One of their most pressing asks is for a process where complaints about racism and discrimination in the sector can easily be registered, investigated and result in stronger penalties.

Those wanting to make complaints currently have to turn to the Real Estate Council of Ontario, said Morrison.

OREA also wants the equal treatment of all individuals mandated in the Condominium Act because 43 per cent of Realtors say they’ve seen a rental deal fall through because of discrimination.

“There was a condo building maybe about a year ago on Bay Street (in Toronto), where two men wanted to live in the condo and the condo board were denying them because they were LGBTQ+,” Morrison said.

OREA has similarly noticed there is a mounting number of people who have come forward with concerns about Ontario condominium rules that require units be for “single families,” thus excluding LGBTQ2S+ couples, single parents, and other family types.

Also figuring into its demands are moves to make home ownership more accessible for all by reducing government-imposed costs on new rental projects and building 99,000 community housing units over the next 10 years.

Statistics Canada data from 2018 found 72 per cent of people in Ontario who are not a visible minority own their homes compared with 43 per cent of Black respondents, 50 per cent of Indigenous respondents and 67 per cent of other visible minorities.

One of the biggest roadblocks in the home ownership process for these groups is obtaining a mortgage.

OREA’s data concluded that 16 per cent of consumers faced challenges in the mortgage process due to their race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. About 22 per cent said their bank or mortgage provider caused the racism or discrimination and six per cent even changed banks or providers because of their treatment.

To help these groups afford homes, OREA wants the province to encourage the expansion of affordable home ownership programs for disadvantaged communities and have proceeds reinvested into new social housing stock, grants, rebates, low interest loans and rent subsidies.