Looking for RPAC Conference Grants? NAR is now offering REALTOR Party Conference Grants instead. This is a perfect opportunity for state associations to host their own REALTOR® Party Conference in an effort to educate members and further the mission of the REALTOR® Party.
In the space of a single campaign season, a 380-member association representing three counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore went from being quietly a-political to being all-in, no-looking-back, politically involved. It was a one-day REALTOR® Party program on identifying REALTOR® Champions that lit a fire under the Bay Area Association of REALTORS® (BAAR), and of the thirteen candidates it endorsed in the general election, twelve were victorious in their races for County Commissioner, Sheriff, and State’s Attorney – all elected offices that have the potential to affect the local real estate market.
Bob Friday, the association’s Executive Vice President, credits his former Government Affairs Director with encouraging BAAR to apply for the REALTOR® Party training program. “A few of our members were vehemently opposed to our becoming politically engaged,” he says. “But our Board examined the opportunity carefully, and determined that it was in the best interests of the industry and our association to endorse candidates who share our values and positions regarding real estate and private property rights. We simply did the best we could to reason with our dissenting members; regrettably, we did lose two,” he notes. “It’s unfortunate, but our members need to understand the purpose of our organization. If we’re not going to walk the walk, then forget it.”
The REALTOR® Party’s Candidate Training Academy is offered just a few times every year, and BAAR felt lucky to get it, says Friday. “We invited the neighboring Mid-Shore Board of REALTORS® to join us at the training session, where a terrific consultant came up from North Carolina to show us all what to look for in a REALTOR® Champion,” he explains. Five BAAR REALTORS® who’d participated in the training became the association’s candidate selection committee, in addition to Friday, who served without a vote.
The BAAR selection committee then sent invitations to all candidates in the three counties it covers who were in challenged primary races for local offices. They interviewed a total of thirty-six candidates, reports Friday, and decided to endorse eleven candidates, ten of whom made it through to the general election; in the general election, BAAR endorsed thirteen candidates of whom twelve won the offices they were seeking. The REALTORS® signaled their endorsement through a full-page ad in the local newspaper supporting all its chosen candidates. “Needless to say, we were very pleased with the outcome of our selections, and grateful for the tremendous help NAR provided in teaching us the do’s and don’ts of this process,” says Friday.
He adds that having publicly endorsed candidates has given BAAR an entirely new level of visibility and respect in the community. “Those elected are extremely grateful, and some have approached us seeking to appoint our members to various boards and commissions in the counties we serve,” he reports. “At least one has said to me, ‘I wouldn’t have won without the REALTORS®’ endorsement.’”
To learn more about how REALTORS® are helping to shape local politics affecting real estate- and property rights-issues in three counties in eastern Maryland, contact Bob Friday, Executive Vice President of the Bay Area Association of REALTORS®, at 410-758-4866.
In the rapidly growing city of Greenville, S.C., as in many others nationwide, the demand for housing is increasing, while the supply is shrinking – a trend exacerbated by a framework of outdated policies that limit housing diversity. Facing the problem head-on, the REALTORS® of Greater Greenville teamed up with a number of other community organizations to host a housing forum to address what kind of housing is needed, and the existing local land use and zoning codes that inhibit its construction. A Housing Opportunity Grant helped them to do it.
There’s no silver bullet to solve the affordable housing problem that so many communities face, asserts Chris Bailey, Government Affairs Director of Greater Greenville Association of REALTORS® (GGAR). “The solution has to be long-term, because there are often complex issues like education and transportation involved; yet politicians, who live from term-to-term, may not be all that interested in long-term thinking, and, of course, tax hikes are the kiss of death.” So the goal of the housing forum, he explains, was to show city administrators what they could actually be achieving if only their zoning policies weren’t so antiquated. GGAR partnered with a broad range of local charitable and advocacy organizations such as Upstate Forever (a local conservation organization,) Piedmont Health Foundation, and the Jolley Foundation, as well as Piedmont Natural Gas, the American Institute of Architects, and the City of Greenville, to present the half-day program to a capacity crowd of 200 stakeholders and municipal officials.
The event’s keynote speaker was Karen Parolek of Opticos Design, a firm renowned for its work on the concept of “missing middle” housing, the kind of multi-unit or clustered housing that is affordable by nature, and compatible in scale with conventional single-family homes. Break-out panels featured experts discussing shifting demographics, barriers to development, and the newly created Greenville Housing Trust Fund. “It may have seemed like a strange partnership, initially, pairing speakers from the Home Builders Association with affordable housing advocates,” says Bailey, “but if you really want to learn about the barriers to development, there’s no one better to ask than the home builders, who are the ones who actually have to pull permits.”
“There were a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments, and there’s strong momentum moving forward,” he continues, reporting that the Greenville City Council has already agreed to cut all permitting fees by 50% on housing projects under $169,000. “That really helps,” he says, adding, “Now if we could just get them to reduce a handful of codes… there’s actually one on the books here that requires housing facades to be a certain percent brick. That’s the kind of low-hanging fruit we’ll be going after in the short term, the baby steps that will make it easier to provide the housing our city needs.”
The Greater Greenville Association was no stranger to the REALTOR® Party grant programs; in fact, Bailey is such a believer that he promoted them in a talk at last year’s Association Executive Institute. “These grants are a great way for associations to meet the core standards,” he says. “They’re so user-friendly, no matter how small your association staff might be; there’s no reason to be intimidated. The applications are only a few pages long, and they help organize your thoughts, and ultimately, your project. Plus, the National Association has a great staff to help you every step of the way with advice and expertise. I can’t recommend them highly enough!”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Greater Greenville are using REALTOR® Party resources to encourage policy makers to reduce barriers to affordable housing, contact Government Affairs Director Chris Bailey at 864-992-1953.
With Advocacy Everywhere, Illinois REALTORS® Rally Peoria Voters against New “Parcel Tax” on Property Owners
Attempting to bridge a $1.2 million hole in its budget, the City Council of Peoria, Illinois, thought it would impose a new fee on owners of all residential and commercial property within its jurisdiction. The proposed fee, which was expected to increase over time with no end in sight, was not going to get by the Peoria Association of REALTORS® without a fight: “They’ve poked the wrong bear!” declared one board member. With help from the state association and the REALTOR® Party, the REALTORS® used Advocacy Everywhere and other measures to call voters’ attention to the threat and encourage calls of opposition to the City Council. Overwhelmed by the volume, the Council agreed to a compromise.
Dallas Hancock, CEO of the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS® (PAAR,) notes that her Government Affairs Committee is proactive and engaged, meeting with the community’s elected officials and staff on a monthly basis to keep the lines of communication open. “Some Council members even contact us directly, when something comes up that needs our attention. And when they don’t, we can depend on Kristie to be closely monitoring City Hall!” Kristie Engerman, the Local Government Affairs Director and Regional Manager for Member Outreach with the Illinois REALTORS®, explains that in this case, the city was trying to fill a shortfall in the Public Safety Pension fund, a perennial challenge that grows exponentially, and which requires a last-minute band-aid every November. “PAAR’s Government Affairs Committee does a great job developing and maintaining working relationships with City Hall, but at the end of the year when there’s a sense of desperation over balancing the budget, you’re going to need more than that. You need pressure from voters,” she says.
Engerman enumerates the “vast store of REALTOR® resources” that PAAR brought to bear on the effort to oppose the proposed Public Safety Pension Fee, part of a program that the REALTOR® Party helped to put together within a matter of hours in mid-November: “Emails and texts messages to PAAR members, on Fridays and Mondays of two consecutive weekends; and a consumer component supported by the Illinois REALTORS®’ Advocacy Fund that involved texts, social media, and a postcard mailer. We used all avenues at our disposal. Let me tell you, Peoria is a relatively small community, and when Council members have thousands of constituents calling and emailing – they notice.”
In the end, the Public Safety Pension Fee passed, but in a reduced version of the original proposal: the fee itself was lowered, and a sunset clause limited the duration to three years. Says Hancock, “We’re glad for the compromise. More than that, we really raised awareness among voters in the community. Our REALTORS® saw the advocacy system at work; the public saw REALTORS® in action; and many voters were jolted out of apathy and into action. But most importantly, the elected leadership experienced the impact of the REALTOR® Party collaborative efforts. That’s a big win.”
She continues, “We are just so fortunate to have Kristie handling our Government Affairs – along with those of the rest of the state – with such expertise. Efforts like this could never happen the way they do without her guidance.” As for Engerman, she notes that it was widely considered time for some push-back on Peoria city budget matters, and it’s been good to put a spotlight on the long-term issues. “For the viability of the entire region, we want Peoria to remain competitive in the housing market, which it can only do if taxes and fees on property ownership are kept at a reasonable level. The REALTORS® are the only organization out there looking to protect private property rights, and at the same time, thanks to PAAR’s strong Government Affairs Committee, we can talk to the City Council about formulating a long-range business plan to resolve challenging budget needs.”
To learn more about how REALTORS® in Peoria used a REALTOR® Party program to protect property owners from unfair tax burdens, contact Kristie Engerman, Local Government Affairs Director and Regional Manager for Member Outreach for Illinois REALTORS®, at 309-253-864; or Dallas Hancock, CEO of the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS®, at 309-688-8591.