Skilled veteran of housing wars is called again

Minority brokers group taps city man as chairman

`I've reached a pinnacle'

25 years ago, he set sights on changing status quo

September 01, 2002|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Something about H. Bernie Jackson's voice demands to be heard. Soft and slightly weathered, it exudes a strength that comes with experience and years of mastering the art of speaking one's mind.

No wonder the successful Baltimore real estate broker and owner of BJR Associates is the new chairman of the board for the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which calls itself the oldest and largest minority trade association in America.

For more than 25 years, Jackson has spoken out for what he calls "democracy in housing," an advocate for those who might otherwise have no voice.

Raised in Baltimore's southern and western areas, the city native bought his first home with the idea that he would sell it for a profit one day. It proved a wise move. Within five years, the property doubled in value. Jackson sold the home and, with his wife's blessing, invested the money in other properties, which he renovated and later rented.

"It was the American dream," he recalled. "Early on in life, I went that route, when I saw the advantage of owning real estate was the way to go."

Jackson got his real estate license in 1976 and began working full time with Otis Warren Co. Again, his timing was impeccable.

"I was fortunate," he said, "because I came in with a broker whose business skyrocketed. It boomed. He had a little office over on Edmondson Avenue and in one year's time it grew to having about 75 agents. When I saw that, I thought, `Well, this guy can do it; I can do it.' "

Three years later, he became a broker, and shortly thereafter set out on his own. At that time, the Baltimore area had a handful of minority brokers. Today, it has about 50 of them.

From the start, Jackson recognized a double standard in how minority brokers were treated. It was no surprise to him that the needs of the African-American community were being overlooked by white brokerages.

The National Association of Real Estate Brokers was founded by African-Americans in 1947 because the National Association of Realtors barred them from membership.

Incensed by predatory lending and discriminatory practices, Jackson set his sights on changing the status quo.

Jackson soon found himself on a mission that over the years would lead him many times to the halls of Congress. It was there he testified about the need for equal rights in housing and served as a spokesman for millions of Americans -- not only minorities but also the disabled, the middle class, the working poor and families with children.

"When I first started out, we were fighting NAR," he recalled. "They were the major backers to fight the Fair Housing Act of 1968. They said it wasn't beneficial to their members, and I agree. It wasn't beneficial to their members. Their members are 90 percent nonminority, and they speak well for their members.

"They also opposed a lot of the Fair Housing amendments that came out in 1988. That's when we came out for the amendments for the disabled and for those families with children. They also didn't think that was beneficial to their members."

The National Association of Real Estate Brokers, says Jackson, was instrumental in helping him realize that he was not alone. Today, the association has about 8,000 members nationwide and is a strong political force. The majority of the association is still run by brokers who, like Jackson, own their own businesses.

Fighting together

"When you meet people who have similar problems that you have, and it's across the country, it makes your life a lot easier," he says. "You know you aren't fighting a hopeless battle in Baltimore, that there are other battles across the country that require the same type of attention, and you could only fight those battles if you fight them as a group.

"With 62 boards across the country, it takes every one of us to get our voices heard in front of Congress and HUD and all the other major players."

But he harbors no bad feelings.

"I think I have benefited, because I know perfectly well what's going on, the internal makeup of our association as well as the internal operation of the other major association, the National Association of Realtors. I don't begrudge them. I've been a member of their association as long as I've been a member of ours."

"But," he quickly added, "I don't utilize their association, other than their [multiple listing service]."

In 1982, Jackson founded BJR Associates, one of the few minority-owned property management companies in the state. He describes it as "the dirt end of the business."

On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he is responsible for such unenviable tasks as evicting tenants and maintaining rental properties.

"It means you have to go there yourself and correct the problems. No, there aren't that many people who want to do it. Those that have," he added, "should succeed."

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