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Celebrating Women’s History Month: Healing and hope begin when home is a haven

Women’s History Month has been celebrated throughout the month of March since 1987. It’s a time for us to acknowledge the bravery, sacrifices, and contributions to humanity by women - women who changed the world, from all the way back to antiquity, to today.

Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance designates a theme for Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” a nod not only to the caregivers throughout the pandemic, but also in recognition of women’s tireless efforts throughout history to provide comfort and hope.

As providers of hope and healing, why have women faced discrimination in so many areas? Famously, for the right to vote in the U.S., the right to attend Ivy League colleges, the right to keep a job and have a child, the right to marry whom they choose, and the right to property.

The importance of property rights

Home ownership is much more than buying a place to live. It’s about building wealth and financial independence. It’s no accident that the single most valuable asset for most American households is their primary home. Home also builds community, provides stability, centers us, and provides a place to find comfort and security. If women provide healing and hope, why did it take so long for them to gain the right to buy their own home, with or without a husband, in their own name?

Because when America was born, American law was, and still is, based on English law. And English law ruled that a husband had full control over all his wife’s assets. Since women couldn’t inherit property, finding a husband was crucial to survival.

Over the years, different states in the U.S. passed their own laws, weighing in on the property rights of women, and mostly white women. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that women gained control over their own property in every state, and that was only with a husband’s consent. When women could finally get their own credit cards in 1974, the road to home ownership finally cleared. It took long enough.

And yet, today women spend an average of two percent more than men to purchase a home, and receive two percent less than men when selling, thereby eroding their wealth, compared to male peers, a little more.

The Fair Housing Act

The Federal Fair Housing Act was enacted on April 11, 1968, as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It was established at a time of deep racial divide in the U.S., and prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, and family status. Even with the provisions of this act, housing discrimination still happens, everywhere.

Whether it’s being denied a loan, or paying more than a male to rent the same space, or simply a refusal to rent to a woman for any reason at all, housing discrimination continues to plague women to this day, after all these years.

Affordability is a key concern. Women are paid less than men, are not provided with the same employment opportunities as men, and often struggle with employment when pregnant, and when raising children. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords can’t charge women more for rent, or refuse to rent to them, and yet there’s substantial evidence that these abuses are real.

The pandemic made matters worse. Women were hit hard, financially, when businesses had to close due to the lockdowns across the country. From February through May 2020, 11.5 million women in the U.S. lost their jobs, compared to 9 million men. In addition, women are often the primary caregivers in their families – a role deeply impacted by the pandemic and employability. With daycares shutting down and children learning remotely, women largely filled the care gap, hindering employment opportunity for them.

Inadequate supply of affordable housing

As the economy recovers and wages rise, we’re faced with a new challenge – a lack of affordable housing, made worse by the current surge of home prices combined with a lack of inventory. This shortage is particularly acute for those earning from $75,000 - $100,000 annually. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) reports that before the pandemic, there was one affordable housing option for every 24 households in that income range. Today, the number is one in 65, adding up to 400,000 fewer available affordable homes.

Renters are not doing much better than home buyers. Average rents rose 14% last year, and are expected to continue to rise throughout the year. With rising prices and falling inventories, low income families, many of which are headed by women, are forced to live in inadequate and unsafe residences. This has a negative impact on long-term outcomes for family health and wealth.

Taking action

At IREM® we believe that healthy, safe, and dynamic communities are anchored by real estate, and the businesses and people who occupy our properties. There’s a lot property managers can do to help ensure fair housing practices are followed, and those seeking a home, to rent or to buy, are treated fairly and with respect, regardless of gender, handicap, race, children, or background. It all starts with education, and making sure your knowledge of regulatory issues and best practices in housing are equal to the task.

In the 51 years since the Fair Housing Act was passed, progress has been made to help protect women and others in protected classes find high quality, affordable rentals, or to become homeowners. Lately, with the fallout from the pandemic, we seem to have taken a few steps back. It’s important for real estate managers to pay attention, as they have the opportunity to effect positive change. And, after all, housing stability is important to providing healing, and promoting hope.

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