At fifty miles south of the nation’s capital, Fredericksburg, Virginia – the boyhood home of George Washington! – is more than a bedroom community, though it is beset by some of the worst commuter traffic in the country and, like many communities nationwide, it is feeling the crunch of insufficient affordable housing. Using a number of Smart Growth resources from the REALTOR® Party, the Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS® (FAAR) has established itself as the go-to source of data, research, and policy guidance as the region grapples with how to manage the development of workforce and entry-level housing with sensitivity to the surrounding countryside.
Public Policy Director Kim McClellan explains that a major Smart Growth Grant first secured FAAR’s expert reputation in housing research by funding a 2017 housing density study, clearly showing that Fredericksburg needed to build much more housing for the essential workers serving the community. She presented the results to all the elected officials and planning managers in the association’s jurisdiction, who are still citing the information four years later. In 2020, wanting to mark the new decade with another project supporting affordable housing, FAAR learned about the REALTOR® Party’s State and Local Growth Polling. “This was a great opportunity for us to separate anecdotal assumptions regarding how people felt about where they live, from their actual values and priorities,” she notes. With additional support from the state association, FAAR worked with the REALTOR® Party’s consultants, fine-tuning questions posed to 420 adults in a three-locality region.
The results of the poll were surprising, in a positive way, reports McClellan. 93% of the participants were happy with the quality of life in the Fredericksburg community. Traffic, far from being the top factor when choosing to live there, did not even make the top five; safety was number one. A full 50% believed there needed to be more entry-level affordable housing. Again, FAAR shared the results with local officials, this time, along with one of its monthly mailings of MLS stats that they provide as a regular service. “We like having a reason to be in contact with our decision-makers, and value-added information like this helps to strengthen those relationships,” she notes.
FAAR also engaged its own members in an interactive Zoom event to discuss the key findings of the polling information. Informed by their opinions and priorities, they built on the value of the poll in their next step: developing a growth and development action plan. “What we needed to know, was ‘How do we as a REALTOR® association create a pipeline to home ownership?’” McClellan explains. “Our existing policy positions on affordable housing were very general, and we were frequently asked by elected officials for more prescriptive steps.” Another Smart Growth Grant enabled FAAR to hire a local economic firm to formulate a list of concrete housing policy options specific to the region. The association is now gathering member input to determine which of the study’s recommendations to make the focus of REALTOR® advocacy.
“Each step of the process has helped establish REALTORS® as the source of housing expertise and promotes the image of REALTORS® in the community. That provides incredible member-value, and we’re so grateful to the REALTOR® Party for helping us do that,” says McClellan.
To learn more about how the Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS® is informing the development of its region, view a recent Community Outreach webinar Shape Your Community’s Future with Smart Growth Resources or contact Public Policy Director Kim McClellan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.253.8624.