- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Five months after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson officer, St. Louis real estate agents were again forced to confront thorny issues of race and housing segregation that have shaped the region’s growth and identity for decades.

More than 200 housing industry workers, bankers and community organizers packed a Creve Coeur conference room Friday for a discussion hosted by the St. Louis Association of Realtors on the “Ferguson impact.” The event was billed as a chance for attendees to learn how to “navigate the difficult conversations you may face with your clients as it pertains to race, discrimination and racial residential segregation.”

“As soon as you get onto an airplane or go to another city, you know exactly what the conversation is going to be about,” panel discussion moderator Reena Hajat Carroll said.

Brown, a black 18-year-old who was unarmed, was killed Aug. 9 by white ex-officer Darren Wilson. A St. Louis County grand jury decided in November to not indict Wilson on criminal charges.

Local real estate experts said it’s still too soon to know how Brown’s death and subsequent protests will affect real estate purchase prices, available inventory, time on the market and other indicators.

“We’ve monitored the market in Ferguson and surrounding areas since August and there has not been much change,” said Lauren Smith, marketing director for the St. Louis Realtors’ association. “It could be years until we see what the true influence of this was.”

David Patterson, a Coldwell Banker broker in Florissant, said his job hasn’t substantially changed since Brown’s death. Like many of the panelists and participants, he said the community’s biggest challenge is one of perception.

“There’s a lot of concern on the part of the public about if it’s in their interest to purchase or sell in Ferguson,” he said. “But I haven’t seen a diminution of interest in purchasing in Ferguson. You’ve got just a couple of blocks that were devastated (from looting and arson). The rest of Ferguson is intact.”

The real estate agents’ group distributed a set of post-Ferguson talking points for members that are forthright in addressing the St. Louis region’s racial divide and political fragmentation while also reminding its members of the importance of serving as regional boosters.

Ferguson and other inner suburbs that border the city of St. Louis are now predominantly black as white residents moved to outlying areas, leaving behind poorly funded school systems that depend on local tax revenue. The housing shifts were aided by banks and brokers who illegally funneled black residents into certain neighborhoods while denying them access to other areas.

Patterson, who is black, is hopeful that discussions about the role of race in politics and policing will mark a turning point for his hometown.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I think that out of this tragedy, we’re going to build. Sometimes it takes something like this to bring things to light.”

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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