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In the Spirit of Fair Housing: A Closer Look at Building Inclusive Communities

Fair Housing Act
March 2018

In commemoration of the anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act, two property management firms count inclusivity as part of their greater mission as housing providers.

This April, as the industry celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, there’s no doubt that rental housing has made tremendous steps toward inclusivity and eliminating discrimination.

“Fair housing is the law,” says Racquel Russell, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs at Zillow Group. “It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s the lawful thing to do. But there are many companies in the apartment industry that are going far beyond that. Through their missions, they are strengthening diversity and inclusion in our communities.”

Redefining the Law of the Land 

For Aeon, an affordable housing developer in Minnesota, creating and sustaining inclusive and diverse communities is at the core of its mission. The organization serves nearly 8,000 people, the majority of which (78 percent) earn very low or extremely low income. Their residents’ average household income is $18,629, and one-fifth of Aeon homes serve individuals who were formerly homeless.

Karen Barton, Learning and Development Manager at Aeon, ensures employees go beyond what is required under the law. In addition to the mandatory fair housing training every employee completes as part of their onboarding process, Aeon offers trainings on different cultures and coordinates employees participating in “Bridges Out of Poverty,” which helps participants better understand how to work with and support low-income individuals.

Barton continues, “We seek to understand where different groups are coming from, and we are continually educating our staff on the different cultures we serve. It can mean anything from not holding a community picnic during Ramadan to ensuring we have a good partnership with mental health service providers.”

‘Layers of Cultural Competence’

Another heartwarming story can be found at the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence in Washington, D.C., which opened its doors last winter. The 14-story, 124-unit property was built through public and private partnerships, comprised of more than 50 entities in all.

The sleek building provides permanent supportive housing for veterans experiencing homelessness, along with affordable housing for low-income adults. But that’s only the beginning — the project also offers support services for all its residents, including full-time Veterans Affairs case managers on-site, a first of its kind in Washington, D.C.

The project is “near and dear” to Katherine Gibson’s heart. She is Marketing Director at McCormack Baron Management, the Conway’s property manager and sister company to McCormack Baron Salazar, one of the developers of the project.

The company’s mission is to develop and manage quality, sustainable and opportunity-rich communities. They work with market-rate, low-income and public-housing residents to create inclusive communities for everyone, from veterans and seniors to families with children.

The onsite teams undergo specialized trainings to better serve the different populations McCormack Baron serves. There is also a significant compliance process. And while working with low-income or housing-insecure populations comes with nuanced opportunities and challenges, Gibson says that working with those living in affordable housing isn’t any different than working with market-rate residents.

“Culture and diversity are always evolving and changing,” says Barton. “We seek to learn and understand the cultures and groups we work with today, but tomorrow, they can and will look different. Learning to be culturally competent is like peeling an onion: There will always be another layer to understand.”

Lindsey Schober reports for Zillow Group.