Sometimes, you’ve got to spend money to save money. That was the strategy of two local associations in California, as they launched parallel campaigns to prevent rent-control ballot initiatives from qualifying for the November 6 election. One succeeded, and the other did not, but both agree that it was well worth the effort — and worth the REALTOR® Party’s Issues Mobilization resources that made the campaigns possible.
In the city of Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, a tenants’ rights organization was attempting to get a rent control initiative with a provision for just-cause eviction on the ballot. Christine Schachter, Government Affairs Director of the Pacific West Association of REALTORS®, explains that the measure ran completely counter to the REALTORS®’ stand on many issues, notably property rights. “With such a measure in place, new housing supply would be greatly discouraged. Not only would it have been debilitating for Long Beach, it would have been a damaging precedent for dozens of other cities in our region.” If enough signatures were gathered to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, when voter turnout is sure to be high for congressional elections, it would have stood a good chance of passing, says Phil Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific West REALTORS®. “I’m not sure there’s any amount of money that could have defeated it at that point, so it was necessary to invest up front and keep it off the ballot,” he states, adding, “Our directors told us to spare no expense, but even though we were ready to put all our eggs in this one basket, we still could not have succeeded without the National Association behind us.”
The “decline to sign” campaign was a largely educational effort, countering the signature-gathering with multiple social media platforms, including a website, and a video featuring firefighters, policemen, and other REALTOR® allies. Every day, teams of REALTOR® volunteers and paid advocates were deployed to oppose the petition effort at grocery stores and on door-to-door rounds. A tear-off mailer offered voters a postage-paid chance to oppose the petition: more than 1,000 were signed and sent to City Hall. The initiative failed to make it to the ballot, and Hawkins credits his REALTOR® volunteers with much of the success. “Our nearly 13,000 members understand the importance of advocacy and political action. More than 50% invest in the REALTOR® Action Fund every year, and this is exactly why they do.”
Meanwhile, REALTORS® up north in Sacramento were facing a very similar situation. Caylyn Wright, Government Affairs Director of the nearly 7,000-member Sacramento Association of REALTORS® (SAR), notes that despite its robust social media campaign against the rent control initiative in the capital city, the signature-gatherers were only collecting door-to-door, which forced SAR into an uphill battle, following behind in an attempt to change individual signatories’ minds. Although the initiative qualified for the ballot with the necessary 36,000 names, Wright says that the REALTORS® raised their profile as serious opponents to rent control, and know that the educational nature of their campaign has had lasting value. They are not giving up: when Sacramento’s mayor recently proposed setting a temporary rent cap, 175 REALTORS® showed up at the City Council Meeting wearing opposition t-shirts and convinced the Council otherwise. SAR is now working with the Vice Mayor and several council members on a Tenant Protection Act that will help stabilize housing without causing as much harm to future development. “We’re so grateful to both the National Association of REALTORS® and the California Association for their timely support,” says Wright. “Although our campaign didn’t work out as we’d hoped,” she says, “it has positioned us as leaders as we all work together to solve these complex housing issues.”
To learn more about how REALTORS® across California are working to solve housing access and affordability by other means than rent control, contact Caylyn Wright, Government Affairs Director of the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®, at 916-437-1227; Phil Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific West Association of REALTORS®, at 714-245-5522; or Christine Schachter, its Government Affairs Director, at 714-221-8474.