It Seems That We All Have Racism on Our Minds. Here Are My Thoughts.

It has certainly been an interesting and emotional two weeks since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Rita and I have been happy to add our voices, and are impressed at the longevity and the worldwide spread of the demonstrations.

On Sunday afternoon, there was an event in downtown Golden, which the two of us attended.  (See the picture  by Chris Davell of Goldentoday.com below.) It was followed by a march through downtown Golden, although Rita and I didn’t stay for that.

The event was organized by a group called Golden United. I have attended several prior events by this wonderful organization, headed by Golden resident Ron Benioff. You will probably read about it elsewhere in this newspaper since I met the reporter covering it. Several hundred people attended the event in Parfet Park, most of them wearing masks and all socially distanced.

It was, of course, very peaceful. After all, this is Golden, a college town that is majority liberal, majority white, and my home for the past 23 years. A city councilor, JJ Trout, emceed the event, giving a very thoughtful speech of her own. Mayor Laura Weinberg also spoke.  Both displayed great introspection and deep thought on the topic of racism. Ron Benioff spoke, stressing that being non-racist is no longer enough. We all have to be anti-racist.

The police chief, Bill Kilpatrick, was there with one other officer and received generous applause at the mention of his sensitive letter to the community which he wrote shortly after the death of George Floyd. (That was followed this week by a lengthy posting on the city’s website outlining police practices and training related to implicit bias, the use of force and other topics raised following George Floyd death.)

I have a couple thoughts to share beyond my sincere appreciation for Golden United and our city’s political leaders.

First of all, I feel that we are overlooking anti-Hispanic racism, which is just as pervasive as anti-black racism. It was the first and remains the greatest expression of racism by our current president, who opposes even legal immigration from people of any color other than white. (Remember his comment about Norwegians being more desirable than Hispanics?)

It’s my perception, and perhaps yours, that whites and the police are not as fearful of Hispanics as they are of African-Americans, but they still don’t view Hispanics as equally valuable human beings.

I certainly value and appreciate our Hispanic population and especially the Mexican-Amercans and their undocumented cousins who work tirelessly and with seeming contentment at so many jobs which other Americans are unwilling to perform — picking our vegetables and fruits, repairing or replacing our roofs, and collecting our trash alongside African-Americans.  (It was heart-warming last week to read a post on NextDoor urging neighbors to tape dollar bills to the lids of our trash carts as a way of thanking our trash collectors.)

Not only do we as a white society insufficiently appreciate our black and Hispanic population, our regressive laws work to keep that population impoverished. We need to address our anti-poor policies — which are really pro-wealthy policies, such as the Trump tax bill of 2017 — which have widened the gap between rich and poor in America.

Real estate, at least in the Denver market, is a majority white industry, not representative of the racial diversity of the metro area. I can say with confidence that it’s not reflective of any anti-black discrimination in hiring.  My first partner in real estate with whom I co-listed properties was an African-American woman who I miss working with. She remained with Coldwell Banker when I moved to RE/MAX Alliance before starting Golden Real Estate.

My seven broker associates are all white, but they and I would welcome with open arms one or more African-American and Hispanic agents to join our ranks.  It is hard to say why our industry has not attracted more African-Ameri-can brokers, but I’ve noticed a large contingent of Hispanic agents, who even have a highly active association.  I’ve attended their events.

For this column, I interviewed two of the three blacks who serve on the 18-member board of directors of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. That ratio, it should be noted, is better than the ratio of blacks who are members of DMAR.

Milford Adams, managing broker of Lyons Realty Group LLC in southeast Denver, told me that economics are the primary reason there aren’t more blacks in the industry, since it’s hard for a new agent to get established in the business without significant cash reserves. (I know this personally, since it was two years of expenses exceeding income before I myself started making a living in real estate.)  And, yes, he said he has experienced discrimination, much of it subtle, at every turn as he himself rose through the profession.

Lori Pace, of Kentwood Real Estate in the City Properties office in downtown Denver, has been an activist within the profession and operates a strategic consulting business, offering training to real estate brokerages (see her website, www.LoriPace.com) in the area of recruitment and diversity training.  On that website you can also watch her TEDx talk “Philanthroperty,” which was about inspiring women, not just minority women, to invest in “real estate, not purses,” to grow in wealth and power.

The following was submitted by Lori Pace regarding the program she teaches on diversity:

Everyone’s experience matters and how we live, make a living, and lose lives. There is no such thing as a stupid white question, but there is certainly are intellectual black answers. The Diversity Difference is an essential wellness program illustrating how real estate and health equity impact everyone’s ability to breathe or exhale. 

The Diversity Tool Kit is THE ventilator allowing everyone the opportunity and right to exist and not resist.  It is designed to develop a multicultural, multi-generational mindset. The live and virtual keynote address combines a training series with first-hand accounts and stories on doing business while being Black in America.  It is more than a call to action. It is a collaborative, result-driven process tackling multi-layers of problems and resolutions examining metrics, business strategies, and tools for real-life situations.  Passive conversations become proactive actions.

This is a resource to ensure strategic, proactive, and sustainable ACTIONS that can be implemented immediately.  The agenda is based on an inspirational and REAL approach providing new perspectives for all industries, organizations, and institutions ready to implement a blueprint from a black perspective.

Participants gain a new outlook and opportunity to breakdown and understand how systematic racism in businesses and communities continues to be influenced by the power of segregation and money. Transparency and trusting safe cultures are non-negotiable in order to move forward. The experiential learning deals with Fair Housing and intentional and unintentional Unfair Business Practices. It is time to invest in business, social and emotional “Black and Blue Print” to change your PACE unapologetically with a high return on your investment.

The Real Estate industry and brokerages are major players influencing ALL communities, neighborhoods, business, and institutions.  There is a new demand for answers to awkward questions and circumstances requiring a no-judgment solution. Now more than ever, the world is aware of the negative impacts of silence and ignoring the blinders that have been abruptly removed.

Big Entities Target Mobile Home Parks, the Last Bastion of Affordable Housing

I just finished watching John Oliver’s riff on mobile homes. If you’re not familiar with his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” or don’t get HBO, the good news is that his single topic take-outs* are archived on YouTube, where you’ll be glued to your computer screen for an unending series of  take-outs that only starts with his take-out on mobile homes.

Here’s what I learned from watching John Oliver’s piece and was able to confirm by talking to others. Sometimes I wish I could be a full-time journalist again so I could really do investigative reporting, but I’m a Realtor now and have to depend on others like John Oliver and David Migoya of the Denver Post doing the heavy lifting. So, instead, Google is my friend. And there’s so much to learn just by Googling.

The big trend in mobile homes is the influx of big corporations like Warren Buffett’s Clayton Homes in the mobile home park business. Historically, such parks were “mom and pop” operations, but it was inevitable that mom and pop got old and, even if their children had an interest in taking over the family business, it was more profitable to sell the park to a developer or to a company like Clayton Homes.

What makes a mobile home park a great investment is that, while people own their mobile or “manufactured” home, they rent or lease the land on which it sits. The land owner can raise the rental fee without limit because, while the home can technically be moved, it would cost thousands of dollars to do so, and there’s little choice of where to move it. You can’t just buy a lot somewhere and put your mobile home on it. I checked with Jefferson County, and you can only install a mobile home on land zoned for mobile home parks. That rule feeds right into the greed motivating those corporations which, like Clayton Homes, are buying up every mobile home park they can.

Another thing about mobile homes is that, while they can be really nice when they’re brand new, they do not appreciate in value like regular homes. Rather, they decline in value like a car or like the “personal property” they are. Also, since they’re not “real property,” you can’t get a mortgage on them for 4% over 30 years, you get a chattel loan at 15% and for a shorter term.

Thus, if a mobile home owner can’t afford an increase in land rental for their home, their only choice often is to simply abandon the home that they paid thousands of dollars to buy. Since it becomes abandoned property, the mobile park owner can then assume ownership of it, or scrape it depending only on what makes financial sense. And down the road (so to speak), they can kick out the remaining occupants and sell the entire mobile park to a developer.

This is a heartless process, but it’s how our free enterprise system works. So, what can be done about it?

On January 21st Golden United sponsored a public meeting on the subject of manufactured housing which I attended, along with several city councilors and civic minded people. Sadly, only a handful of the attendees were residents of a mobile home park.

The main presentation was by an organization which organizes residents of mobile homes parks to form an owner’s association which might then outbid other buyers of the park when the current owner attempts to sell it. This organization, called Resident Owned Communities (ROC), was featured briefly in John Oliver’s piece.. (Fast forward to 13:10.)

What local governments could do to address the problem, Oliver said, was to legislate a “right of first refusal” by which an owner’s association or other non-profit entity serving the interests of mobile home park owners, would be able to match any bona fide offer by a for-profit buyer, and purchase the mobile home park. I’m not aware of any such legislation or other public policy aimed at protecting manufactured house, which is, after all, the last bastion of affordable housing in most cities.

Mobile home parks have few friends among owners of conventional real estate, but however you might feel about them, I hope you feel they are worth preserving.

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*“Take-out” is a journalistic term for an in-depth look at a single topic. During my 1968 internship at the Washington Post, I was tasked with writing a 3-part series on the solid waste industry in the District of Columbia. I enjoyed telling people that I did a “take-out on trash.”