As if a global pandemic and relentless hurricanes were not enough to deal with this summer, the REALTOR® Association of Acadiana (RAA) found itself dropped into the deep end of urgent legislative advocacy when short-term rental and property tax issues suddenly came to the fore. Taking advantage of the Land Use Initiative and Advocacy Everywhere programs, the 1,600-member association was able to navigate the respective situations and achieve positive results for property owners in Lafayette, La., at both the city and parish levels.
Susan Holliday, CEO of RAA, reports that this spring during the pandemic shutdown, she learned that the city and parish governance of Lafayette were interested in restricting short-term rentals. Her first move was to renew her association’s partnership with the local home-builders organization for support in opposing the restrictions, and her second was to contact the REALTOR® Party for help. They set her up with a Land Use Initiative review of the proposed ordinance through Robinson & Cole, the law firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® for just this purpose. “It’s an awesome resource,” she says. “My contact prepared me so well and educated me far beyond what I ever could have accomplished on my own; he even connected us with AirBnB’s representatives. I was able to lobby Council members with confidence, armed with all the legal points he provided, and I was able to call our Director of Planning and ask, ‘Have you considered this? And what about that?’” she says, noting that these relationships with various officials were about to become even more important.
That is because a threat to increase property taxes came up suddenly at the end of August. The local tax assessor declared that due to a decrease in assessed values of commercial real estate, revenue would be down for the 2021 budgets of both the City and Parish of Lafayette. While both legislative bodies are empowered to roll millage up to meet the revenue level of the previous year, explains Holliday, it would have meant an unfair burden for the area’s homeowners. Once again, she called on the REALTOR® Party, this time to arrange a Call for Action to convince the Council to delay the decision in order to seek alternative funding solutions. “We felt that there had to be more time and effort invested in finding a workable solution,” she says, adding that RAA didn’t want to project a ‘no-tax’ message. “Of course, our members want good roads, good schools, and all the things that bring business in and strengthen our communities. We understand that these all require funding, but wanted to find a way that would be more balanced and fair.”
The CFA, which engaged both members and consumers, gained a two-week deferral of the decision on the millage increase. During that time, Hurricane Laura hit the region, forcing evacuations and closing the REALTORS®’ office for a number of days. In the end, both the City and the Parish decided to keep millage rates at the 2019 level, and reserves were found elsewhere to make up for any budget shortfall. The STR issue was given a 30-day deferral for further study. “We can work with that!” says Holliday, with fingers crossed against more dramatic weather.
“I would not have been able to do this without the resources of NAR,” she continues. “With both the Land Use Initiative and the Call for Action, the REALTOR® Party teams did all the heavy lifting, which was a good thing, as we have neither the expertise nor the staff time. And, while we had to learn in a pinch how much advocacy matters, we’ll certainly be focused on it, moving forward.”
The Council assured RAA that its concerns had been well heard, and that in the future, they will be invited to be part of the conversations surrounding these issues, says Holliday, adding, “We really cemented the fact that REALTORS® have a large voice in the community, and much to contribute.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Acadiana are using the resources of the REALTOR® Party to protect homeowners, contact CEO Susan Holliday at 337-233-0086.