Ezekiel (Zeke) Morris - broker-owner of EMA Realty and Management in Chicago - PHOTO BY STORYTELLER STUDIOS
Ezekiel (Zeke) Morris – broker-owner of EMA Realty and Management in Chicago – PHOTO BY StoryTeller Studios

For Chicago REALTOR® Zeke Morris, chairing the NAR Fair Housing Act Anniversary Working Group provides an opportunity to further the organization’s commitment to upholding equal housing access.

That won’t happen without tough conversations along the way, he said.

“NAR is the voice of real estate throughout the United States” Morris said. “In order to maintain that title, we have to take on some uncomfortable situations or have some fierce conversations. Conversations that will ultimately change the narrative for years to come.”

Morris, a former president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® who currently serves as the Chair of the Housing Opportunity Working Group of the Illinois REALTORS®, is leading the 10-member panel shaping NAR’s commemoration of the historic act signed 50 years ago.

The challenge before us was to look at the REALTOR® organization’s role in supporting fair housing in the years since the Act’s 1968 signing. Which meant that we had to first acknowledge that the REALTOR® organization was on the wrong side of fair housing in the past. This allowed a space for healing, and with the help of our fair housing partners, we were able to look at what is important to all of the communities that we serve, Morris said.

“I’m looking at this as an opportunity for us to say, 10 years from now, what do we want to look like?” he said. “What do we want our community to look like?”

It is important for REALTORS® and the real estate industry to lead by example. Morris said he is encouraged to see a new generation of leaders addressing fair housing issues and partnering with multicultural real estate groups.

“I’m encouraged that we’re having these conversations today. From the perspective of 50 years ago, they were very uncomfortable and even today they’re uncomfortable, but I think that I’m encouraged that people are at least willing to have that conversation,” Morris said.

“If we’re going to grow, we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Morris saw firsthand how the struggle for fair housing played out. Ninety-eight percent of students at Lindblom Technical High School were white during his freshman year. By the time he graduated, the school was 98 percent African American, he said.

Fair housing doesn’t mean every community will be the same. It doesn’t mean that underserved communities need million dollar homes to be equal, Morris said.

What it means is that each community should have the chance to be a thriving and sustainable place where people can work and live and build a normal, healthy life for themselves and their children, he said.

“That’s what our job is, to prepare and make things better for the future,” Morris said.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Illinois REALTORS® worked with The Storytellers Studios to produce a video telling the story of REALTOR® involvement, past and present, in the fair housing movement. In the video, Illinois REALTOR® members share their personal experiences in the fight for equal opportunity in housing and reflect on what more needs to be done.

50 Years Of Fair Housing

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. Fifty years later, Illinois REALTORS® commemorates the progress that has been made to provide equal housing opportunity for all and looks at the challenges that remain.