Minnesota's largest real estate groups on Wednesday apologized for the industry's role in the racial gap in Twin Cities home ownership and announced policy changes to help more people of color buy homes.

Denise Mazone, a Twin Cities real estate agent and the first Black president of the Minneapolis Area Realtors in its 135-year history, recited an apology approved by the group's board.

"We were on the wrong side of history," Mazone said. "Our apology and efforts to engage in policy change are overdue and are important steps for us because of the deep and lasting impact our actions have had on people of color in Minnesota, especially Black Minnesotans."

Until 1968, racial covenants on the deeds of Minneapolis properties were used to exclude people of certain races from owning houses, leading to a segregated city. And for years, MAR, the industry's main trade group, excluded Black real estate agents from membership.

While those practices were abandoned decades ago, their effects linger in both home ownership rates and broader measures of wealth. Today, the home ownership rate of Black Minnesotans is half the rate of the state's white population.

"The real estate profession was complicit in creating the racial disparities that we see today," said Carrie Chang, chief executive of MAR.

Leaders from the Twin Cities chapters of other Realtor groups attended an event at MAR's office in Edina to discuss the apology and show support.

They included the Asian Real Estate Association of America; National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals; the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which represents Black Realtors; the St. Paul Association of Realtors; the Minnesota Realtors and the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.

Jackie Berry, chair of the MAR task force that spearheaded the apology and helped develop the new policies, said that she's seen firsthand a lack of awareness around the racial home ownership gap.

"We clearly have not done enough to rid the real estate industry of the systemic issues that are preventing us from staying true to our commitment to fair housing for all," said Berry, who is also a MAR board director and chair of MAR's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. "I strongly believe education is a piece of the solution."

The association said it would update its continuing education coursework to train Realtors about a recent change to the state's purchase agreement forms that removes language that might identify certain financial considerations. Such details, MAR says, can be used to discriminate against prospective buyers.

MAR will also educate all Realtors about racism in real estate and their responsibility to reduce the racial home ownership gap. MAR is also expanding funding to the Pathway to Achievement program, which provides scholarships for incoming real estate agents, so that it can help kick-start the careers of more minority agents.

MAR also pledged to recommend that the National Association of Realtors adopt a policy supporting development of a federal down-payment assistance program for first-time and first-generation homebuyers.

Chang said several other local real estate associations have issued apologies for their role in the problem, but she believes MAR is the first to implement policies aimed at correcting the problem.

She said that while the task force hasn't set specific goals for closing the home ownership gap, it has made a commitment to implementing additional policies aimed at encouraging more minority home ownership, which in turn helps drive economic stability and personal wealth.

"Homeownership is the foundation for so many things," Chang said.