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Property bans don’t just endanger Asian buyers — they harm agents

Publish Date: July 18, 2023

Written by Kurt Nishimura

- Originally published at Inman News - Kurt Nishimura

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I recently read the new book, A Fever in the Heartland, by Timothy Egan. It was about the early-1920s rise of the KKK in Indiana and beyond, largely led by those still angry about the abolition of slavery and the Confederate loss in the Civil War.

It was striking to read that despite the steps forward our nation made back then, there were hundreds of thousands who wanted to turn back the clock, targeting Jews, Catholics, immigrants and, of course, Blacks.

As I read, I recognized the similarities we are seeing in today’s America as too many are working extremely hard to move us backward, knowing our nation is nearing the 2040s when the U.S. is expected to be more than 50 percent diverse. 

We’ve had so many recent examples. State laws against LGBTQ+ people, the rising number of hate crimes, targeted mass shootings, fear of recognizing racism and slavery in our schools, bills targeting immigrant real estate buyers and the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse affirmative action.

I believe all of these issues are real estate concerns as they impact so many on where and how they live, along with their ability to advance their lives and make a living while saving for down payments.

What I can’t understand is why these people are against leveling the playing field for those who have been previously disadvantaged.  Why are we allowing more opportunities for discrimination? I’ve faced discrimination in my life. It’s not fun. And real estate professionals should be leading the charge against it.

Why are real estate professionals not screaming more loudly against these bills that are so obviously tied to homeownership and community?

As many of you likely know, some states across America — led by Florida and Texas — are currently pushing for and enacting legislation that would effectively create a “Chinese property ban.” Florida also goes after citizens of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

Within this legislation, lawmakers are proposing that targeted potential buyers cannot own more than a specified amount of property, limited to only certain areas. 

You may have recently seen that the U.S. Department of Justice shared that Florida’s law would violate the federal Fair Housing Act and the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It wrote,

“These unlawful provisions will cause serious harm to people simply because of their national origin, contravene federal civil rights laws, undermine constitutional rights, and will not advance the State’s purported goal of increasing public safety.” 

National security is cited as the rationale behind these restrictions. Of course, national security is paramount, but the way these bills are written welcomes increased discrimination. It would be far too easy for a homeseller to take one look at me, an American citizen with Japanese ancestry, and refuse to sell to me simply because they might think I “look” Chinese. 

While politicians want to stoke fear and hide behind discrimination as an issue of national security, it’s really an issue of national insecurity. 

And, if you didn’t think this was your problem as a real estate professional, think again. It would also be illegal for a real estate professional or company to knowingly sell to restricted people.

That means if I was your buyer, since you likely can tell that I am a member of the AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) community, but you can’t tell if I’m Chinese, you must ask me if I am Chinese. When doing so, you clearly just entered the “discrimination zone,” wading into Fair Housing laws while violating the Realtor Code of Ethics.

These discriminatory laws put you in danger — not just me and not just the AANHPI people or other diverse groups. Here is a rundown of states with anti-Chinese bills or legislations:

Florida 

Florida’s SB 264  states “It will be a felony for Chinese people to buy property in restricted areas or for any person or real estate company to knowingly sell to restricted people,” per the Associated Press.

These restricted areas include locations near military bases, airports or seaports, telecommunications offices and more. The amount of land owned by a Chinese citizen is also limited to single parcels under two acres. 

Texas

The other state receiving the most attention is Texas. Texas’ Senate has already passed a bill that bans Chinese citizens from owning “real property.” This terminology refers to agricultural land (farms, meadows, pastures), improved agricultural land, mines or quarries, land with valuable minerals, or land with standing timber.

This imposition effectively makes the ranch lifestyle, which attracts many homebuyers to the state of Texas, impossible for members of the Chinese community. 

While these restrictions are daunting, they’re actually watered-down remnants of an even more xenophobic proposition. The original bill proposed that citizens or dual citizens would be banned from all property sales, making it impossible to buy a home in the state. There is also still another bill on the table that would ban all Chinese students from attending public universities within the state. 

Montana

Montana is a lesser-known state that’s in the process of enacting anti-Chinese legislation. Governor Gianforte enacted the same location-based restrictions that we see in Florida, prohibiting Chinese people or businesses not being allowed to own or lease property near critical infrastructure or agricultural land. 

Alabama

Alabama’s Senate is in the process of implementing a very open-ended set of limitations for Chinese citizens. Here, the ban uses the same terminology as Texas, “real property,” but there is no definition of real property within the state. This leaves the possibility that all real estate transactions could be banned for Chinese citizens, not only those on agricultural land. 

Unfortunately, 24 other states are also creating or proposing similar laws

The 20-year-old Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) has nearly 18,000 members but we are not a homogeneous group of “Asians.” Instead, we are comprised of over 30 different cultural groups, and it’s our responsibility to protect each one of those communities, no matter where they are in the country.

This includes the Chinese-American community which consists of 4 million people, 66 percent of those residents being homeowners, according to our latest State of Asia America Report

Our report also shared that we continue to see AANHPI migration as our community — like so many Americans — is searching for more affordable homeownership opportunities. Texas and Florida have been obvious destinations, but there are so many others. But how can we migrate if we fear being discriminated against?

And let’s not forget about our AREAA members. How will AANHPI real estate professionals be able to do their jobs if government leaders and discriminatory citizens are watching over their shoulders to make sure they are not working with “illegal” buyers?

I feel a responsibility to ensure that the entire real estate industry recognizes that it is under attack, not just Chinese citizens, AANHPI people or other diverse groups.

We are supposed to be working to create and empower communities, not standing to the side as some work to marginalize others. We are supposed to stand for homeownership for all.

It falls on us to be the loudest advocate against hatred and discrimination and stand up against those looking to disrupt the American Dream. 

The real estate industry shouldn’t stand silently as others fight for us. Those like:

  • Chinese citizens living and working in Florida who sued the state and are fighting back against Texas.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union stating that the law will have a substantial chilling effect on sales to Chinese and Asian people who can legally buy property
  • Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chairwoman Rep. Judy Chu, of California, battling back: “Buying real property is a critical step for immigrant families, students, and refugees to pursue the American Dream, and we’d be denying these immigrants their access to the very same values that our country was once built upon by enacting these restrictions.”

I want to close by again expressing a fear that these laws represent an open invitation for future discrimination against the AANHPI community. Remember, we have faced discrimination and hatred from Day One. The pandemic being defined as a “China virus” certainly didn’t help. Now this. It needs to stop!

Kurt Nishimura is the President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) and has more than 25 years in real estate. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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