As the pandemic was causing untold upheaval in the past year, the importance of decreasing barriers to homeownership remained constant. Housing Opportunity Grants from the REALTOR® Party helped associations across the country continue to narrow the gap between the housing haves and have-nots.
The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® in Virginia had already secured a Housing Opportunity Grant to help sponsor ‘Housing Our Future,’ an in-person regional summit for housing practitioners organized by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, when the event was forced online by the pandemic and morphed into a four-part series. Ali DiGuardo, CAAR’s Director of Marketing & Communications, describes the resulting virtual series as a resounding success – with several distinct advantages, including cost and time savings, and convenience for everyone involved.
The goals of the summit were to increase community understanding of existing housing conditions, identification of regulatory barriers, and find adaptable solutions to affordable housing. Each of the hour-long sessions had about 50 people in attendance, including elected and agency officials, community and business leaders, housing advocates, architects and developers, and real estate professionals. “Anyone with a stake in homebuilding and housing should be a part of these conversations,” says DiGuardo, “which is why it was important for the REALTORS® to take a leadership role as sponsors. We are grateful to the REALTOR® Party for helping us amplify our presence when advocating for affordable housing in our community.”
Each of the sessions offered Q&A time for engagement with the speakers. For those who couldn’t attend in real-time, the sessions were also recorded. Admission fees were waived when the program pivoted to its less costly online format. According to DiGuardo, “The program will likely be offered again next year in a hybrid format, to capitalize on some of these ‘silver lining’ advantages. So many housing professionals and advocates around the nation are experiencing similar challenges, so if someone in Seattle has solutions to share, it would be great to be able to welcome them to the table without restrictions.”
Meanwhile, in Springfield, Illinois, the Capital Area REALTORS® hosted four ‘Pathway to Homeownership’ seminars in March 2021, in person, in compliance with Covid-19 protocols, and with an emphasis on creating comfortable settings for aspiring homeowners. The events took place in two different church halls in two different disadvantaged neighborhoods that have lots of rental units – and affordable housing stock. In total, about 50 participants heard from a credit counselor, a lender, and a REALTOR® about understanding and improving credit scores, the loan application process, financing options, the advantages of owning a home, and the advantages of using a REALTOR. Those who registered in advance were offered free credit counseling, and follow-up indicated that many contacted lenders in the ensuing days to investigate their qualification.
Chief Executive Officer Kathy Nichelson explains that the impetus for the seminars came from her Government Affairs Committee, in discussions about rent control. “They realized that if we were opposed to rent control, we’d better be offering alternative solutions. Ideally, that would be helping people get into homes of their own.” This was the first time the 700-member association had offered such a program, and from the early planning stages, says Nichelson, they focused on details that would make participants feel at home as they embarked on what might be a daunting process. From locating the events in the target neighborhoods, to scheduling them on a weekday evening and Saturday morning to accommodate a range of work hours, to making sure all hosts were attired in business-casual rather than in suits, they strove to make the seminars as convenient and welcoming as possible. The grant from the REALTOR® Party covered both refreshments and marketing, which was mainly through social media. Nichelson notes that any size association could replicate the program by making use of expertise they already have. “We found that the participants were hungry for information. They were taking notes and asking questions. We provided folders with lots of resources, and documents backing up the PowerPoint presentations for reference. These are motivated, aspiring homeowners, and they’ll be well-positioned to take their next steps.”
To learn more about how the REALTOR® Party is helping REALTORS® keep homeownership issues and education front-and-center, contact Kathy Nichelson of the Capital Area REALTORS® at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217.698.7000; and Ali DiGuardo at the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®, at email@example.com or 434.817.2396.