When Maryland’s legislative session adjourned on April 12, there were two new laws on the books lowering the barriers to homeownership, thanks to the work of the state’s REALTOR® association and the public response to a high-profile campaign supported by the REALTOR® Party. ‘Open Doors to Stronger Neighborhoods’ will continue to keep Maryland residents connected to Housing Opportunity issues – as long as Housing Opportunity remains an issue.
Bill Castelli, the state association’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, explains that ‘Phase 1’ of the ambitious effort to find solutions to Maryland’s dearth of affordable housing was funded by a 2020 Issues Mobilization Grant, and laid much important groundwork. This initial grant supported the creation of a website, a consumer-facing ‘dashboard’ and database that keep interested parties connected to the issues, and collected real-life personal stories of housing challenges from the public; it also helped the REALTORS® convene a focus group to gauge current homeownership aspirations among people of color.
“We were already committed to concentrating on housing-supply issues, but then the extreme pandemic market put an exclamation point on it, and the deep racial inequities revealed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death drove us to focus on Housing Opportunity,” says Castelli. He continues, “Housing Opportunity concepts are linked to everything else, from tax policy to land use issues. We realized that a campaign that raises all these issues and keeps them at the forefront would create a relevant foundation well into the future.”
Phase 2 was an intensive four-week campaign to drum-up public support for pending legislation that the Maryland REALTORS® had been advocating for at the Statehouse, notably the establishment of homebuyer tax-free savings accounts; the creation of a work group focused on reducing the homeownership gap disadvantaging families of color; and removal of zoning barriers to more affordable ‘Missing Middle’ housing options, such as Cottage Clusters. A second grant from the REALTOR® Party funded extensive online advertising targeting voters, members, and consumers, as well as radio and local print ads. Appeals were sent to residents who had registered interest during Phase 1. Tear-off mailers were sent to constituents of the lawmakers on the three legislative committees working on the respective pieces of legislation.
Overall public response to the effort was positive, and the legislation creating homebuyer savings accounts and a work group on minority homeownership will go into effect this year. The third bill in play, addressing different types of affordable housing, will live to see another day, says Castelli. He anticipates that this and other land use issues, many of which were dropped this session in favor of more pressing priorities, will come to the fore in the next legislative session. Looking ahead, he also expects to keep interested members of the public connected through the Open Doors website and the dashboard, while the association continues to emphasize Housing Opportunity issues with the state legislature. “We are thrilled to have NAR’s resources behind this effort, and happy to have been able to provide the matching funds to get it off the ground. What we’ve achieved so far will be a strong foundation for all the work that still needs to be done.”
To learn more about how the Maryland REALTORS® are maintaining a focus on Housing Opportunity in a year of emergency legislative priorities, contact Bill Castelli, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301.789.5353.