A Personal Testimony: Housing Discrimination & Empowering Advocacy

Jun 23 2023
As we celebrate our People & Culture Manager, Jasmin Lilis’ two-year anniversary at Framework, she shares her story on why the Framework mission aligns so profoundly with her values and how we can uplift all communities through the homeownership process. 


Know Your Rights

In mid-2020, my partner and I embarked on our homeownership journey in Minneapolis, MN, where we were determined to find our first dream home. Being an interracial queer couple with an interracial child, our ideal home would be located 15-20 minutes from the city in an LGBTQ+ and BIPOC-friendly neighborhood with good schools and supportive districts. Unfortunately, our lack of knowledge about the process led us to make some crucial mistakes. We hastily chose the first real estate agent recommended by a real estate listing website without exploring other options or confirming that the agent was truly on board to help us find our specific needs. The agent showed us homes in areas with higher crime rates in predominantly Black, Latinx, and Asian communities, even though we could afford homes in other areas near the ideal school district we wanted. We also were uncomfortable and disheartened by the agent’s side remarks regarding the stereotypes of the Black & Latinx community when we asked about the safety of those neighborhoods

Potential homeowners must understand that real estate agents must abide by the Fair Housing Act and cannot discriminate against buyers or renters based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. So, it is illegal for real estate agents to make derogatory or prejudiced remarks or judge their clients based on race, ethnicity, or appearance. Being familiar with HUD’s resources will help empower first-time homebuyers to always make informed choices and to advocate for themselves and their needs to guarantee equal treatment.   

Taking Control of Our Homebuying Journey

Eventually, we decided to take matters into our own hands and search independently. We stumbled upon a house that we fell in love with. Although it was further away from the city, it was a beautiful new construction home near a park just feet away. We toured the house independently and decided to break up with our real estate agent and proceed with the home we fell in love with. Filled with excitement, we eagerly showed it to our real estate agent, expressing our gratitude for the time spent trying to assist us throughout our home search. However, what followed was aggressive voicemails from the agent that threatened us if we did not buy a house through him and his brokerage that, we and the homebuilder could be sued. This left us feeling extremely uneased and perplexed. We felt obligated to purchase a home through that brokerage that did not show us homes in the area we wanted.

We thought, were we making the right decision? Why would we purchase a home in an area we do not want to live in? Our parents spent years trying to move us into safer environments; why would we step back and put our children in the same situations we experienced? We went with our gut, blocked the agent’s number, and committed to purchasing the home WE wanted. Although it did not check out the boxes of an inclusive environment and in the school district we wanted, we were committed to taking up space and enjoying a new construction home too.

As we started working towards the closing date of our home, our loan product required us to complete the Framework Homebuyer Education course to qualify. That was the first time we had ever heard of such a resource. Framework’s online course gave us essential information we needed before, during, and after purchasing our home. As we progressed through the course, there was a section that educated you on choosing the right real estate agent and the different types of working agreements. We learned that the real estate agent we initially worked with had no grounds to sue us, as we had never signed an agreement to work exclusively with that agent or brokerage. Learning this information infuriated us as we were cornered into an uncomfortable situation that we didn’t understand then. If we had known about these critical details earlier, we could have avoided this distressing situation and the anxiety it came with altogether

Although we have made substantial progress in neighborhood segregation since the 1960s, we still have a long way to go in lessening this gap, along with the Latino and Asian-American communities. The persistent racial segregation is largely due to housing discrimination based on visible factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Real estate agents with prejudice and who do discriminatory practices may intentionally try to steer first-time homebuyers toward communities with specific racial or ethnic backgrounds perpetuating segregation and continuing to limit the housing options accessible to minority communities. Practices like these are illegal and violate Fair Housing Rights and Obligations.   

Empowering Homebuyers

The thought of being fearful and potentially forced to work with an agent and settle in an area we didn’t want to be in is unsettling. I can’t help but imagine the  countless other folx who have been coerced into similar situations, making me grateful for organizations like Framework that provide unbiased information and encourages homebuyers to be their own advocates against redlining and housing discrimination. I have never encountered a position at an organization whose mission resonates with me as profoundly as this one—ensuring that everyone can access unbiased information and advocate for themselves in the housing market. In addition, an organization whose values align with mine. Ultimately, my soul’s mission is to empower individuals and underserved communities

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a great resource and provides guidelines and educational tools to empower first-time homebuyers throughout their homeownership journey. Along with that, Framework Homeownership provides a comprehensive homeownership education course that helps homeowners understand every step of the homeownership process. If you feel you are a victim of housing discrimination, contact a fair housing center. Learn more about Spotting Discrimination in Real Estate 

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