More than 12 years after the Fair Housing Act banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing nationwide, associations representing nearly a quarter of Virginia's Realtors have yet to sign agreements with the federal government to uphold the civil rights measure.
The Virginia Beach Board of Realtors, the second largest in the state after Northern Virginia's board, signed a voluntary marketing agreement Monday with the Department of Housing and Urban Development promising to protect the housing rights of blacks and other minorities in the Virginia Beach area.
It became the 17th of the state's 34 real estate associations to sign the agreement with HUD, but the 17 -- including the Northern Virginia board, which signed it several years ago -- represent close to 75 percent of the Realtors, a HUD official said.
In Maryland, 17 of the 19 associations -- all but those in Caroline and Talbot counties -- already have signed the agreement as has the board in the District of Columbia.
Not all real estate agents and brokers are Realtors, that is, members of the National Association of Realtors. In Maryland, for instance, between 60 and 65 percent of the licensed real estate professionals in the state are members of boards of Realtors -- "a little higher than most states," a spokesman for the Maryland board said.
The National Association of Realtors signed an initial agreement with HUD in 1975 to work against discriminatory housing practices, but left it to the association's 1,800 realty boards to agree to the terms of the pact individually. So far about half of the boards across the country, representing the majority of realty board members, have signed.
The Virginia Beach board and HUD said they found no evidence of racial discrimination in housing sales in that city, but a recent HUD study of 40 other metropolitan areas in the nation turned up a pattern of "racial steering" -- only showing minorities the homes for sale in certain nonwhite neighborhoods.
"We are very pleased to become part of the marketing agreement with HUD," said Dorcas T. Helfant, president of the Virginia Beach board.
Helfant said that Virginia Beach had been slow to sign the pact because only five years ago the Board of Realtors there had been a small association of just 800 members. Today the board has about 2,600 members and is the 75th largest in the country.
Although a HUD official noted that Virginia Beach Realtors had once regarded the fair housing agreement as an intrusion by the federal government, Helfant said the board has had an equal opportunity committee for the past three years and has always had a policy against discrimination.
Helfant also cited several provisions in the agreement with HUD that she said had gone "way beyond" the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
The agreement with HUD includes the promise to sponsor special advertising seminars and to organize a committee to advise real estate agents, racial minorities and elderly and handicapped residents of Virginia Beach about their federal housing rights. In addition, the voluntary pact includes, an affirmative action provision designed to increase minority employment in realty firms.
A community "housing resources board," composed of homebuilders, mortgage lenders and representatives of minority groups, is expected to be organized by October, Helfant said.
While stressing that Virginia Beach Realtors want to help promote fair housing practices, Helfant said problems with racial discrimination have not occurred in Virginia Beach.