It took some patience – and a change of governor – but Michigan REALTORS® is finally seeing its advocacy efforts pay off with the recent passage of legislation to assist first-time homebuyers, who can now prepare for the purchase with two new long-term savings features: tax-free savings accounts and income tax deductions on down payment savings.
Earlier this spring, Governor Whitmer signed two key bills into law, creating the Michigan First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account Program. Though the legislation had strong political support on both sides of the aisle, it had been hampered first by the previous governor, and then by the exigencies of the pandemic. From the initial concept to the final signature, Michigan REALTORS® saw it through, with strong support from the REALTOR® Party.
The First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts (FHSA) are modelled on the state’s college savings program, which has a strong track record of success, explains Brad Ward, Vice President, Public Policy and Legal Affairs of Michigan REALTORS®. “A few thousand dollars can make the difference in qualifying for a loan,” he notes, which is how the long-term savings vehicle will help aspiring individuals and families achieve their dreams of homeownership, and help the state retain more of the graduates of its many universities. The REALTORS® were deeply involved in crafting the legislation, starting with discussions at the national level as states began exploring the concept of homebuyer savings accounts. Michigan’s are among the first to offer the dual benefits of tax-free growth and annual deductibility – up to $5K for a single tax return, and $10K for a joint filing. “We felt very strongly about delivering the most bang for the buck,” says Ward. REALTOR® Party polling prior to the first campaign helped to refine the policy on matters like where to cap contributions. Ward and his team brought the plan to their REALTOR® Champion legislators who recognized it as a good idea.
When first introduced in 2018, the two-bill FHSA legislation was boosted by a campaign supported by an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party featuring a website, radio ads, email blasts, a strong digital presence, and a Call For Action. Despite passing overwhelmingly in both chambers, the two-bill package was vetoed by the governor at the time. In the next legislative session, with a new governor at the helm, two new similar bills were introduced and Michigan REALTORS® took the opportunity to host a Capitol Advocacy Day for members to connect in-person with their legislators and show continued support for the FHSA bills; this event was also funded by an Issues Mobilization Grant. “It was an excellent day!” reports Ward. “Members came from all over the state, prepared to be ambassadors for their communities and clients.”
The new legislation is now in the implementation phase, and the state’s Department of the Treasury will soon be issuing guidance for investors and financial institutions on how to open the savings accounts. Michigan REALTORS® is preparing to get the word out with a campaign supported by a Community Outreach Grant, including a website driving consumers to the information they’ll need, and handouts for listing packets. “We’re getting so many calls and emails from members,” says Ward. “I’ve been talking up the program at town halls and with local YPN groups all over the state. There’s tremendous excitement about how this will help aspiring homebuyers, and we’re very grateful for the REALTOR® Party’s support!”
To learn more about how Michigan REALTORS® is advocating for measures that will put home ownership within reach of more of the state’s residents, contact Brad Ward, Vice President, Public Policy and Legal Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517.372.8890.