I will never forget my first real estate experience. On the contrary, I pray that soon experiences like mine will truly be a thing of the past. They are not yet, but may someday be.
You see, as newlyweds, my husband and I experienced first-hand the devastation, humiliation and disappointment of racial discrimination in rental housing, as we searched for our first apartment in the then-trendy Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.
We had come to know and love the area, it’s streets, housing, and ambiance, while I was an undergrad at Chatham College. Shadyside was at that time a hip little enclave with a small but thriving business district where forward-thinking young professionals and artists operated unique shops, galleries, bars and eateries, and we thought we’d fit right in, with our upwardly-mobile, college-educated, good job-holding selves.
It was the '60s, after all, the Civil Rights Bill was finally passed, and our generation was changing the world. Right?
Being the first in our families to go to college had broadened our horizons and we had high hopes for a better tomorrow. We’d shared many good times in Shadyside with our college friends, and it was the first place we looked when we'd saved enough to move into a place of our own -- never suspecting that the property-owners and landlords in the area were a different crowd altogether, with more conservative ideas. For many property-owners, it may have been tolerable for us to hang out and spend money in the neighborhood in the company of our upscale college friends, but unthinkable for us to even consider calling Shadyside home.
The apartment of choice became suddenly "just rented" as soon as the landlady took one look at our two excited and expectant black faces. We were skeptical but decided to take her at her word. What else could we do? Knowing the area was the best choice for us in terms of quality of life and proximity to jobs, college and family, we doggedly continued our search in the area. But the same thing happened again not once, but three times. By this time, even our friends knew what was happening. We were encouraged in one case to sue, but who wants to live like that? We finally gave up on the area and settled on a townhouse in suburban Wilkinsburg, a brand new build which we had no trouble at all getting into. It was very nice.... just not our location of choice.
To this day, the memory of that first home search remains painful.
I wish I could wrap this up with some words of wisdom and a powerful lesson learned to redeem the hurtful experience, but that’s not the case. It was simply devastating and dehumanizing, and time doesn't change that. I am deeply grateful that anti-discrimination laws were soon passed, and over time are slowly taking root in our society. But I am not so naive as to think that this scenario is not being played out again and again to this day, in spite of our professional best efforts to adhere to fair housing rules. Old habits and ingrained prejudices aren't easily overcome.
I only hope that this post serves as a reminder that every effort on our part to honor fair housing rules is an important step towards finally ending all such discrimination in our industry and our country.