In 1979, Jackie Cooper, new to real estate, had a client who wanted to buy a house in the Songwood neighborhood, just east of Loop 610. When she asked the sales agent on scheduling a tour of the newly built house, he declined.

That didn’t bother Cooper, who would later become the first female president of the Houston Black Real Estate Association. Maintaining her gentle demeanor, she picked up the phone and started calling the builder’s head office, working her way up the managerial ranks until the company let her show off and sell their homes.

“I was kind of a plague to them,” she said with a wry smile.

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Cooper, 77, had a lot of doors slammed in my face. But through quiet perseverance and relentless determination, she not only helped open up the local housing market to black real estate agents, but also to black buyers, long barred from certain neighborhoods by Jim Crow laws, deed restrictions. and discriminatory lending practices known as redlining. She eventually found ways to convince vendors, builders, and even government-sponsored mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to turn their businesses over to black realtors in Houston.

This year, the Houston Black Real Estate Association recognized Cooper’s pioneering career by creating an award in his honor that recognizes real estate agents who excel in both their work and service to the community. But Cooper never wanted to become a real estate leader in Houston.

In the “Looped In” podcast, Jackie Cooper – whose pioneering career was recently recognized when the Houston Black Real Estate Association created an award in her honor – discusses the changes she has seen in the real estate industry since she took off. became a real estate agent in 1978.

Listen to houstonchronicle.com/loopedin or subscribe to the show on any podcast app.

She grew up the oldest of four siblings in the small town of Parkin, Ark. After high school, she studied commerce at Shorter College, a school in North Little Rock founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Then, when her mother moved to Houston, Cooper was captivated by the idea of ​​a big city. She arrived in Houston just in time to see the Astrodome being built. “I was amazed,” she recalls.

She soon got married and began to work at the post office. While there, she took morning and evening classes at the University of Houston Downtown until she stumbled upon a real estate class in the 1970s.

The flexibility of a real estate agent’s schedule appealed to her. She had three children – five when her mother passed away and she started raising younger siblings – and needed more control over her time so that she could attend their football and basketball games, stay active. in their schools (she was a housewife) and attend her church (she was the superintendent of Sunday school). She obtained a real estate license in 1978 and started working with Century 21.

When Cooper started selling homes, Houston and the South were only a decade or so from the last vestiges of the racial segregation laws known as Jim Crow. The Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in selling, renting or financing a home, was passed in 1968, but in practice many neighborhoods were still hostile to black families and many lenders still refused them. minority mortgage applications. neighborhoods.

“A lot of people were surprised if I came to their house to show a house and I was black,” she said. “Sometimes they would even call the office (real estate) and mention it.”


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One of the first neighborhoods where she made a name for herself was a rural neighborhood in the town of Jacinto where, she said, a real estate brokerage without black agents controlled most listings. The predominantly white neighborhood was near her brokerage office and had a selection of inexpensive homes, which were selling for $ 20,000 at the time, she said. She went door to door, introducing herself to try to find customers. Many slammed the door in her face as soon as they saw her.

But after convincing a few home sellers to take a chance and get good prices for their homes, she won their recommendations to her family and friends. Soon, she said, the area brokerage asked her to join their team, although she ultimately did not. Within a few years, she was selling in Pasadena, Songwood, and other areas east and northeast of the Loop.

The head of the real estate brokerage where Cooper worked later told her that she feared for Cooper’s safety when she ventured into predominantly white neighborhoods on her own. Cooper hadn’t.

“I wasn’t scared because I knew what to do,” Cooper said. “Real estate was my main way to feed my family. I just took care of it and sort of ignore it and just get on with my business. “

Cooper faced other challenges early in his career. In this pre-Internet age, it depended on the book of announcements published each week by the Houston Association of Realtors. Interest rates, meanwhile, were high and rising. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage reached 17 percent in 1981. For comparison, the rate averaged 3 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac.

Cooper went ahead, selling so many homes that Century 21 recognized her with a free trip to Las Vegas and then Hawaii.

Fannie and Freddie

When she became president of the Houston Black Real Estate Association in 1990, Cooper turned her attention to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the big banks. These companies often come into possession of homes when they fail to sell in a foreclosure auction. When this happens, companies partner with real estate agents to sell the homes on their behalf. Cooper wanted these lucrative contracts – plus, she wanted them available to other black real estate agents in the area.

She caught the attention of institutions in part by using the name recognition of the Houston Black Real Estate Association’s parent organization, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, in her applications. Once the contracts were landed, she would recommend other black real estate agents to the companies for future jobs, then give those agents advice on how to do the job well.

Cooper’s example led to then-young real estate agent Kevin Riles to apply for – and win – foreclosure home sales contracts for the Federal Housing Administration. Riles credited the contract with “putting me on the map when it comes to real estate.”

Andrea Hilliard-Cooksey, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, thanked Cooper for involving her both in this organization and in the Houston Black Real Estate Association. She said being a part of them made her think beyond buying and selling homes. She is now a member of the board of directors of the Houston Housing Authority.

“Jackie challenged me,” Hilliard-Cooksey said.

‘Make a difference’

Matasha LaQuinn, recently named one of the Houston Black Real Estate Association’s top agents, says Cooper, her grandmother, made her career possible by leading by example and sponsoring her for her real estate license. Now LaQuinn is trying to open its own doors, creating an investment club aimed at helping ordinary people invest in real estate, especially in historically black neighborhoods.

The club is teaming up with sponsors to offer scholarships of $ 1,200 to people pursuing their real estate licenses and grants to first-time homebuyers who need help with down payments and closing costs. “She sponsored me, and now I’m working to sponsor others,” LaQuinn said.

Cooper said she has two tips for people entering real estate. First, even as technology is reshaping the industry, she said, “you still have to be honest, sincere, and people-minded.” And second, she said, “Try to make a difference in what you do. “

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