Texas real estate agent denied them condo over race

A Black family is suing two real estate brokerages and a real estate agent after the agent refused to sell a unit to them in a new Katy condominium building, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday in Houston.

In a recording, an agent can be heard saying she cannot sell to the three real estate investors — a husband, wife and the wife’s sister — because “we won’t be able to get along with each other well.” The family had offered to pay the asking price in cash. The lawsuit also includes a flyer advertising the building as an “option for Chinese and Asian communities in Houston” where people could live “a safe and simple Asian life” to make the argument that the refusal was made on the basis of race.

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The realtor told the family she was the owner and it was up to her to determine who could live at Grand West, the suit says. She also said all the owners “were personal friends and knew each other.”

The real estate brokerage EXP Realty and the real estate agent, named in the suit as Josie Lin, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. RE/MAX said that Josie Lin left the brokerage in December 2021 and had no affiliation with the brand in any way at the time of the alleged occurrence. Lin bills herself on her site as “a Texan by way of Taiwan” and describes the challenges of studying at Penn State University while raising two children. She said she hoped she could use her personal experience to help immigrants like her adapt and realize their American dream.

Contacted about the case, Lin sounded surprised to learn she’d been sued. She did not respond to an emailed copy of the paperwork.

James Ra-Amari learned about the Grand West Condominiums — the first condominium building in the Katy Asian Town and University of Houston at Katy area, he said — over lunch. He and his wife, Misty Ra-Amari, lived with their four children a short drive away from Katy Asian Town, and he was a regular at Jia Kitchen, where he said the staff recognized him and knew his usual order: crispy tofu with white rice and General Tso’s sauce. It was there that he saw a flyer advertising an open house for the condominiums.

James Ra-Amari, who had previously invested in Acres Homes and northeast Houston, said he was interested in Katy because of the growing population and surge of development. From the building, he said, you can see both his go-to restaurant and the University of Houston’s Katy campus. After going to the open house, he, his wife and his wife’s sister, Rosemary Afful, decided to buy three units — two to rent and one to occupy.

When the three went back to Grand West Condominiums on Aug. 20, they found themselves facing a series of strange objections, according to the suit.

When they opened the conversation about buying the place, Lin said, “I do not negotiate.” When the family said they were fine with the asking price, they say she responded, “Fannie Mae lending would not be approved due to the owner-occupancy ration of the condominiums.” James Ra-Amari said that he had intended to pay in cash and that no one had expressed a desire to finance the sale through a loan backed by the government-sponsored mortgage finance company Fannie Mae.

The suit also says Lin protested that she wanted owners to be 55 years of age or older. When the family asked if she was not going to sell to them because of their ages, the suit says she responded, “No, I’m not going to sell to you because I have a gut feeling that I would not get along with you.”

James Ra-Amari said that when his inquiry was repeatedly denied, at first he didn’t understand what had happened. When he realized he was being blocked from investing in the area, he said it was a “dark feeling.” A video recording indicates he quickly wrapped up the conversation.

Since the experience, he said, he has not been back to Jia Kitchen, where he had previously eaten once a week. “It doesn’t have me feeling different about the area as regards to the potential it has to grow,” he said. “But it does have me feeling different about transferring my resources to a place that does not seem to want us.”

He believes, however, he’ll be able to work through the feeling. He wants to grow the real estate business he and his wife run, and believes that the only way to do that is to invest in areas where the population is on the rise.

He said that thinking about what being denied access meant for his four children, ages 7 through 19, prompted him and his wife, Misty Ra-Amari to file a suit with civil rights firm Stafford Moore.

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“They’re looking at their mother and father and thinking, ‘What’re you going to do about it?’” James Ra-Amari said. “No matter how uncomfortable we feel, we aren’t going to go down without a fight.”

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