When demand for a program you’re offering exceeds more than double your expectation, you know you’ve hit on a real need. That’s what the Houston Association of REALTORS® discovered last fall, when its first-ever housing symposium swelled to accommodate twice the anticipated number of attendees. HAR is now looking to help other REALTOR® organizations replicate its success in bringing together industry experts to help members recognize and navigate solutions to housing-affordability barriers.
Amber Burton Alfred, HAR’s Director of Governmental Affairs and Advocacy, explains that the region’s housing supply was dealt a severe blow by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and since then, the problem has been exacerbated by the steep increase in home values statewide, and another drastic drop in inventory. The impetus to host an event that would provide members with practical information to help consumers with the challenges they’ve been facing began with HAR’s Governmental Affairs Advisory Group, she says. “Our minority affiliate groups were sharing their reports with me, about the State of Latinx Housing, and the State of Black Housing; I shared them with our Governmental Affairs leadership, and we realized that our members didn’t have all the information they needed. It wasn’t that anyone was against housing accessibility, but they just didn’t know about the very real barriers that many would-be buyers were up against, or the various loans and programs that were available to help them.”
With support from the grant, Alfred put together a day-long program featuring experts from across the housing industry, non-profit sector, and municipal offices offering four lively panel discussions: Affordable Housing, Fair Housing, and Barriers to Homeownership; Lack of Inventory, Supply Chain Issues, Oh My!; Credit Worthiness, Getting a Home Loan; and Collaboration is Key: Let’s fix this together. The City of Houston’s Housing Director and the City Council’s Chair of Housing and Community Affairs shared responsibility for the keynote address, which they delivered during the catered lunch hour.
HAR had expected the event would draw about 150 members, but as registration kept climbing, they expanded the hotel ballroom venue to accommodate twice as many. Alfred worked with HAR’s Director of Professional Development Rita Klein Blevins to ensure that it was a robust educational experience for members, who received three hours of TRCE credit for participating.
“I knew we’d put together a compelling and informative program,” says Alfred, “but I had not expected the emotional reaction. After the panel on loan programs, REALTOR® members came up to me crying, saying, ‘I am eligible for some of these assistance programs!’” Most are income-and credit-based, she explains, noting, “The thresholds are higher than you’d expect, and the assistance can be life-changing.” By way of example, she points out that the Houston Community Land Trust will provide qualified applicants with $100K credit toward a $300K home, allowing them to come to the table with just $1,000 in earnest money. “This is how you build wealth, and intergenerational legacies. As a Black woman, I’ve had many conversations with others who understand the need to overcome the barriers that have stood in the way of this kind of security for so long. These programs are empowering members to help their clients, and possibly, themselves. By teaching our REALTORS®, HAR is an important part of the solution,” asserts Alfred.
“When housing comes up,” she continues, “the City of Houston understands that the REALTORS® need to be at the table; they know we’re their best resource for expertise and practical support – like this symposium.”
HAR is sharing its experience with other REALTOR® associations who have heard about the symposium and Alfred is seeking ways to replicate it at various scales. “We would be glad for this to become a national conversation,” she says. “It’s so important! Kids just out of college, and the working poor – they just can’t find low-cost housing. As housing professionals, REALTORS® need to learn all the ways they can help.”
To learn more about how HAR is helping members become experts on housing affordability and accessibility, contact Director of Governmental Affairs and Advocacy Amber Burton Alfred at firstname.lastname@example.org or 832.326.7765.