Hurricane Harvey wreaked Texas-sized devastation on the greater Houston region, but the larger-than-life spirit of Texas residents helping each other through the hard times is a powerful silver lining.
Being especially in tune with the complexities of destruction caused by flooding, real estate professionals are at the forefront of the ongoing aid effort: the state association’s Disaster Relief Fund was mobilized before the storm had subsided, and the leadership of the 37,000-member Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) launched into gear while people were still being rescued. In November, with the help of a REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grant, HAR brought together and shared recovery resources with its multicultural industry colleagues in a program called “Road to Recovery: Life After Harvey.”
Kenya Burrell-VanWormer of JPMorgan Chase, who is HAR’s recently installed 2018 Chair, explains point-blank: “Natural disasters do not discriminate. Harvey affected everyone!” The inspiration for the event, she continues, came from an all-day relief effort sponsored by the Houston Black Real Estate Association, in which she, her 9-year-old daughter, and a fellow HAR Director participated right after the storm. “It was such a moving experience, and it prompted us to plan a program of our own at HAR. As REALTORS®, we know that our professional value is in our information and knowledge. As leaders, we realized that by engaging our fellow industry professionals in all the local minority associations, we could provide these valuable resources which they, in turn, could share with their clients and colleagues and friends.”
The Directors of HAR agreed that such an event was needed, and the attendance numbers bear out their vision. With the support of President and CEO Bob Hale, and the tireless staffing of TREPAC Director Karen Driscoll, HAR developed a half-day program featuring a line-up of candid, open-minded industry speakers who covered topics ranging from mold remediation, to available funding for homes and businesses, to tax relief, to dealing with the emotional aftermath. HAR invited members of the local chapters of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB,) the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA,) the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP,) the Hispanic Mortgage Lender Organization (HMLO,) and the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP,) as well as the Houston Independent Real Estate Brokers Association (HIREBA) and the Houston Black Real Estate Association (HBREA). Nearly 300 individuals attended, enjoying a complimentary lunch and a supportive, informative, collegial afternoon. Many received door prizes of gift cards to grocery and department stores; one even won an iPad. All were heartened by a report from an industry analyst showing that despite Harvey, the outlook for the regional real estate market was stronger than expected.
“In our industry, we can all admit to short attention spans, constantly checking our phones,” laughs Burrell-VanWormer, “so I think it’s a clear measure of success that the audience was totally engaged with the speakers, and paying serious attention to all the highly relevant information.” At a simple reception for committee members following the event, she adds, the question on everyone’s lips was “Ok – what next?” The follow-up is still in development, but one thing is clear, she notes: “Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, and we have one of the most diverse populations in the nation. As a city, we embrace diversity, as an association we embrace diversity, and with the continued support of the REALTOR® Party, we will continue this mission as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act in 2018.”
To learn more about how REALTORS® in the Houston region are helping neighbors, clients—and each other—survive the effects of Hurricane Harvey, contact 2018 HAR Chair, Kenya Burrell-VanWormer, at 713-628-8383.