By Joel Hall
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this week that it has charged Rodney Foreman, a real estate agent formerly employed by Coldwell Banker Joe T. Lane Realty, Inc., in Jonesboro, with racial steering in the sale of homes.
The charges leveled by the agency accuse Foreman of steering white home buyers to predominately-white neighborhoods and making derogatory statements about black residents.
The charges were made after the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) launched an undercover investigation, sending groups of white and black testers to Foreman's office to pose as potential home buyers.
The investigation alleges that Foreman told a white tester that he had two sets of listings -- one for white home buyers and another for African Americans.
Kim Kendrick, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said racial steering is a practice highly frowned upon by HUD. She said the practice denies people their civil rights and can lead to the decay of neighborhoods.
"It denies people an opportunity to live where they want, and it perpetuates segregation," said Kendrick. "That is why it is such a serious issue. What you are doing to the white community is that you are increasing the values of the properties over there. In the black neighborhoods, there are more vacancies, so that neighborhood continues to decline."
David Barton, vice president of government affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors, said real estate agents who attempt to locate homes for their clients based on the race are overstepping their bounds.
"When we see somebody pull up in a Mercedes with a lot of jewelry, it's not our job to assume that they have a lot of money," said Barton. "We don't know the circumstances. The protocol is to run them through the same standards and practices of getting them approved as everyone else.
"It's not our job to decide who gets to live where," Barton continued. "You try to let them decide where they want to go, based on the criteria they have given you. They have the right to pursue happiness just like everyone else."
Kendrick said racial preference is "something real estate agents should stay away from," and listed preferences such as proximity to parks, shopping, schools, and daycare centers as "legitimate" requests.
She said if Foreman is found guilty in federal court, he would be in violation of a federal civil statute, which could result in fines, or damages being awarded to complainants for emotional distress, humiliation, or loss of civil rights.
"We would certainly be writing to the state licensing agency asking that his real estate license be removed," if Foreman is found guilty, said Kendrick.
Steve Bullard, owner and president of Coldwell Banker Realties in Jonesboro could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Barton said Foreman's case allegedly puts "one less bad apple out there. Realtors are held at a higher standard of professionalism and he [allegedly] did not act with a high standard of professionalism," said Barton. "If everybody would just do their job and stop playing these silly little games, we would be much better off."