The St. Louis region’s largest real estate trade group on Monday unveiled a plan to boost African American homeownership as part of an effort to redress its decades-long role in perpetuating housing discrimination.

The St. Louis Realtors say the new initiative is an atonement for how it helped to keep the region segregated; many African Americans wanting to buy homes were denied mortgages, and real estate agents encouraged white homeowners to sell in fear that African Americans would move into their neighborhoods and lower property values ​​— efforts known today as redlining and blockbusting.

“St. Louis Realtors is painfully aware of the historical discriminatory laws, as well as the documented policies and practices of our national, state and local Realtor organizations that perpetuated discrimination against the Black community,” said Katie Berry, president of the St. Louis Realtors. “We apologize for all of these actions.”

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Those efforts, the organization said, led to African Americans having the lowest rate of homeownership, at 45%, among any racial group in the country. White homeownership across the US stands at 75%, according to the Census Bureau.

Will Jordan, the executive director of the nonprofit fair housing agency Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council, praised the Realtors’ plan. He said the two organizations had often not agreed on housing issues in the past.

“The Realtors association is filling in history with the truth,” he said. “That’s very significant. … You can’t heal the community if you won’t acknowledge the wrongs that have been done.”

The Realtors’ plan comes amid a nationwide racial reckoning that began in 2020 following the high-profile killings of several African Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Their deaths sparked months of protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, many corporations seek to promote diversity and incorporate anti-racism training into their organizations.

The National Association of Realtors, which is affiliated with the local group, released its own apology for racist practices in late 2020, calling its actions “an outrage to our morals and our ideals.”

St. Louis Realtors’ effort began in July 2021. It released its plan Monday at Harris Stowe State University with more than four dozen community members and Black Realtors in attendance, including leaders such as St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and St. Louis Alderwoman Marlene Davis.

The Realtors’ plan outlined 22 calls for action, including:

  • Work to create a land bank in St. Louis County to address vacancy.
  • Support state legislation that eliminates historic restrictive real estate covenants based on race or color that are still on the books, despite being outlawed in practice.
  • Sponsor mentorship programs to attract and retain African Americans in real estate.

The group plans to introduce legislation in next year’s state Legislative session to authorize St. Louis County to create land banks that would allow the county to sell vacant homes to the public. The homes’ titles would be free of liens or tax issues, the land bank would old the title of any vacant home not sold at auction and maintain the properties until they’re sold.

The group also said its efforts prompted the Missouri Real Estate Commission, which oversees the industry, to require a “fair housing component” in continuing education classes agents must take to renew their license. That will begin in 2024.

“We know we must continue to educate our members about the historical impacts of importance and intricacies of their housing,” Berry said.