Housing costs are high all over, but in Juneau, Alaska, this has always been the case, thanks to its unique topographical situation: land is not only limited, but physically isolated from the continent by a rugged glacier field, requiring building materials to be flown or shipped into the capital city.
When the Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance forcing property purchase prices to be made public, the Southeast Alaska Board of REALTORS® (SEABR) recognized that transfer taxes would not be far behind, and would result in even higher housing costs. With help from the REALTOR® Party, they launched a citizens’ ballot initiative to overturn the ordinance.
According to SEABR President Annie Sparks, Alaskans have always valued their right to privacy, which is guaranteed by the state constitution. “This specifically includes the right to financial privacy,” she explains, “and the information that the city was suddenly requiring was not just sales prices, but how transactions were financed, and other bills of sale involved, for example, if the property was sold with furnishings.” The mandate was a surprising and invasive reversal of those long-held values, she notes, and was enacted during the pandemic with almost no notice. “It should have been put to a vote in the first place, but they didn’t even reach out to anyone in the industry to explore the likely impact on the community.”
SEABR and its counterpart at the state level knew that the mandatory purchase price disclosure was leading toward transfer taxes and resolved to push back. The Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party was the first ever awarded to SEABR, and Sparks was pleasantly surprised by how simple and user-friendly the process was. “We were able to attach the assembly’s notes regarding the ordinance, budget info, and quotes through the online application. It’s a great tool. The staff provided amazing support and guidance, too, and the grant was approved within a week – which was important, because we didn’t have much time.”
The first step was polling. The REALTOR® Party helped SEABR to understand the views of Juneau’s voters, formulating questions and handling the cold-calling. “It provided lots of insight, but the bottom line was that opinion was divided at about 50-50, so we felt it was worth going forward to get a measure on the ballot that would reverse the price-disclosure mandate,” says Sparks. That meant collecting 2130 signatures in thirty days, in an impressive signing campaign that brought lots of local REALTORS® together for the effort.
Once the signatures were certified, the assembly had a thirty-day period in which it could have overturned the legislation, explains Sparks. When it didn’t, the REALTORS® were ready with an intensive campaign to convince the voting public to overturn the price-disclosure mandate. “Forty days was not much time, but as we were denied the opportunity to educate voters through the ballot booklet, we did all we could, with the support from the REALTOR® Party behind us. The grant enabled us to reach the voters where they were: via radio, social media, and lots of “Vote YES on Prop 4” signs.” They also targeted the local ‘super voter’ list with mailers, and members went the extra mile promoting the campaign, winning a prize for their Jurassic Park-themed Fourth of July parade entry (“Don’t Let Your Privacy Go Extinct”) and in Juneau’s festive Gold Rush Days (“Your Privacy is Like Gold!”).
The measure passed, squeaking by, reports Sparks, with 366 votes, despite a dubious counter-campaign launched by spouses of assembly members in the last two weeks prior to voting day. This victory in the capital city, which is notably liberal, indicates that the legislation would have passed anywhere else in the state by a landslide, she says. In fact, the victory has led to an effort at the state-level to permanently prevent the imposition of transfer taxes.
To learn more about how the Southeast Alaska Board of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights – and the right to privacy – throughout the state, contact President Annie Sparks at email@example.com or 907.500.4684.