Affordable Housing

Utah REALTORS® Think Ahead to Prevent Affordable Housing Shortage

The population of Utah is expected to double – yes, double – by the year 2040, and the matter of just where to house everyone is high on the state’s to-do list. Blocking the way are longstanding zoning restrictions at the local level across the state, as well as significant geographic constraints and, until recently, a misperception among the general public that denied a need for affordable housing. With the help of Utah REALTORS® over the past two years, public opinion has been swayed, and the state has found a way to incentivize solutions to the growing housing shortage, rather than strong-arming municipalities with mandates in 2019.

As Cate Klundt, Government Affairs Director of the Utah Association of REALTORS®, explains, the first step was joining a broad-based partnership of industry groups, homebuilders, non-profits, and the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute. This group, known as the Utah Housing Gap Coalition, commissioned an academic study detailing the nature of Utah’s demographics and housing needs, and conducted polling and focus groups on consumer attitudes. “The results of these inquiries in the first phase gave us what we needed to help craft effective legislation and formulate informed, targeted education campaigns in the second phase,” says Klundt. Two Issues Mobilization Grants and polling services strengthened the effort from start to finish.

Among the key issues revealed by the research was the prevailing misunderstanding among many Utah residents who rejected the notion of a housing shortage, despite the fact that Utah’s housing prices have increased at a higher rate than those of San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle in the past 20 years. Also significant, notes Klundt, is that the population boom putting pressure on the housing market was shown to be due to in-migration and natural household growth, rather than an influx of ‘outsiders.’ A notable age gap between aspiring home buyers in Utah and those opposing the development of affordable housing units pointed to the established generation being out of touch with the plight of the millennials. “We needed to make it clear to the baby boomers that the people being squeezed out of the housing market are not some nebulous threat, but their own children — and we had the data to prove it,” says Klundt.

The REALTORS® used this data in an internal campaign focused on protecting the American dream of homeownership, a theme that resonated at their REALTOR® Day at the state capitol, where about 400 members met with three-quarters of the legislature. The Utah Housing Gap Coalition directed a public campaign at Utah’s parental generation, with the message, ‘Your grown children want to remain close to home – let’s make this possible for them!’ says Klundt.

Members of the Housing Gap Coalition visited city councils around the state to hear their concerns before approaching the state legislature with an innovative plan: an Affordable Housing Modifications bill motivating municipalities to implement housing reform policies by tying their eligibility for state transportation funding to positive steps toward affordable housing planning and transit-oriented mixed-use development. By allowing local governments to choose from a list of measures including establishing community land trusts, permitting accessory dwelling units, lowering parking requirements, and allowing for higher density residential development in commercial zones, the legislation allows municipalities to retain some local control in solving their share of the state-wide problem. Passage of the bill was a triumph for the Housing Gap Coalition, which will continue its work with a focus on future legislation to meet funding needs.

“I don’t think we’re the only state that has to manage conservative homebuilders and more liberal housing advocates, and we were successful in creating a process that appeased both of those groups as well as local governments and the state legislature,” says Klundt. “Our whole coalition is grateful to the REALTOR® Party for the support that made it possible.”

To learn more about how Utah REALTORS® are working to help municipalities become part of the solution to their own affordable housing challenges, contact Government Affairs Director Cate Klundt at 702-767-3994.

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Washington REALTORS® Campaign for Affordable Housing Legislation

REALTORS® in Washington state knew that access to affordable housing at all income levels was being hampered by lack of inventory, and that not just one, but a whole slew of legislative hurdles was in the way of creating more. With the help of an Issues Mobilization Grant, they mounted a persuasive campaign called Unlock the Door for Affordable Homeownership, urging residents to contact their legislators in support of a bundle of bills aimed at increasing the state’s housing stock.

Unlock the Door was driven by a strong coalition of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, with the REALTORS® at the forefront, explains Nathan Gorton, the Washington Association of REALTORS®’ (WAR) Government Affairs Director. Comprising groups from across the housing industry, the coalition is united in the belief that housing is all about supply-and-demand, and that a weak supply hurts everyone. “It affects people in all income levels, including homeowners trying to sell their houses – from move-up young families to empty-nesters to retirees,” says Gorton, “and part of our task was making sure the legislature understood that continuum, and what it means for the state’s economy. On the other side of the coin, building the campaign forced us to take a closer look at government subsidized housing, and its place in the puzzle. There was a lot of learning going on, on both sides,” he gamely admits.

“The fact is, there was no single silver-bullet bill that we could have brought to the legislature that would result in more homes coming on the marketplace,” he continues. “It was closer to twenty.  So, we bundled them together in four categories – Funding for Local Governments; Increased Housing Supply & Density for Market-Rate and Affordable Housing; Incentives for Affordable & Low-Income Housing; and Regulatory & Liability Reforms – and got to work seeking public support.”

Unlock the Door was a robust media campaign, including broadcast and cable TV, radio, and digital ads, featuring real-life stories submitted by members of WAR about the challenges and frustrations of Washington residents shut out of the housing market.

It was an absolute home-run of a campaign, reports Washington REALTORS® President, Dale Chumbley, who led a near-record crowd of just over 500 members to the state capitol in January for “WR Hill Day”. “The whole tone was positive, pro-active, and upbeat. We went into the legislature saying: ‘We all know this is a problem; here’s who the coalition is; here are our solutions.’” And the legislature was ready to listen. Polling showed significant public concern about the level of affordable housing in the state, and the coalition had done its homework, meeting issues of concern with draft legislation. Only one significant bill of 18 on the Unlock the Door docket failed to pass, a measure attempting to extend a tax exemption program for affordable multifamily housing. The coalition is already planning to try again next year.

A survey of WR members toward the end of the campaign revealed an 84% awareness of the effort, the sort of recognition that could normally take years to achieve, according to the consultant on the project. “Not only was it a huge success legislatively,” says Gorton, “it was a huge success for our members, and for homeowners and aspiring homeowners in Washington state: a real triumph, all around!”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Washington state have been taking a big-picture approach to overcoming the challenges of affordable housing, contact Nathan Gorton, Government Affairs Director of the Washington REALTORS® at 360-943-3100.

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Charlotte REALTORS®Dive Deep into Regional State of Housing

Every day, an estimated 60 to 70 people move to Charlotte, North Carolina. Nice as it is to be popular, the city is learning that unless it plans accordingly, the fast-paced growth resulting from its desirability will present some real challenges moving forward. To get a handle on the current status of housing in the region, community leaders and local elected officials turned to the REALTORS® for help.

“We’re fortunate in having an excellent resource in the real estate department at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte,” says Terri Marshall, Executive Director of the Housing Opportunity Foundation associated with the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association (CRRA). In 2017, CRRA’s leadership approached the university’s Childress Klein Center for Real Estate and asked if it would undertake a five-year study of the state of housing in the greater Charlotte region. The initial report, released in February 2019 and clocking in at more than 80 pages, provides a valuable benchmark analysis of the city and eight surrounding counties. In addition to funding from a REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant, CRRA contributed eight-counties’ worth of MLS data to the project – and will continue to do so for another five years. The overriding finding, says Marshall, is that “We’re just not delivering enough housing, and the supply crunch is driving prices up steadily, at all levels of owner-occupied and rental housing.”

Joe Padilla, CRRA’s Government Affairs Director who worked closely with Marshall on the effort, explains that because affordable housing concerns are not limited to the city of Charlotte itself, it was important to take the outlying counties into account: “As the report states up front, no analysis of the Charlotte market would be complete without understanding its suburban markets. We share a responsibility to develop ample affordable housing for the growing population. If a county’s not allowing homes to be constructed at price points that are accessible to buyers at all income levels, it’s going to face difficulties down the road,” he notes, adding, “The report is generally positive, but it’s a wake-up call for all of us, as well as a road map.”

In committing five years’ support to the study, the REALTORS® were joined by a strong coalition of partners including the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Piedmont Public Policy Institute, the Charlotte Housing Authority, and numerous other industry leaders. The initial study was rolled out at the Summit on the State of Housing in Charlotte in February, an event that drew more than 300 participants – with more on a waiting list. “UNC is a research organization, and the study is the presentation of its findings, not a policy paper,” says Marshall. She adds, “But the Childress Klein Center did a phenomenal job of putting two panels together for the summit, and that was where stakeholders and city leaders began to talk policy. It brought about the most unifying discussions I’ve encountered in a very long time. Our involvement in the process has positioned the REALTORS® to be, more than ever, the voice of housing in Charlotte.”

“This has filled a real need,” agrees Padilla. “As our community leaders are planning and looking ahead, they can refer to this benchmark report and say, ‘What does the UNC study say?’” He notes that the effort complements Charlotte’s pro-active and responsible stance towards its housing challenges: a major affordable housing bond was recently approved on the ballot in Charlotte, and each year as the successive UNC studies are released, annual roll-out summits will focus on policies, solutions, and next-steps. For his part, he is hoping to expand the study’s impact by bringing some of the UNC study’s authors out in to the surrounding counties to meet with local chambers of commerce, REALTORS®, and homebuilder associations. “It would be great to sit down together and focus on the data specific to each county. The analysis has been done; now it’s time to share in a meaningful and productive way!”

View the complete report online.

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Charlotte are working to address the affordable housing crisis in their region, contact Terri Marshall, Executive Director of the Housing Opportunity Foundation of the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association, at 704-940-3148; or Joe Padilla, its Government Affairs Director, at 704-940-3174.

 

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Land Use Initiative Helps Hawaii REALTORS® Address Affordable Housing

The habitable area of any island is limited by definition. On the beautiful Hawaiian islands, the combined effect of vast acreage of protected natural lands, the highest cost of living in the U.S. and a severe shortage of affordable housing brings land use issues into still sharper focus; so do the tents that line many city streets.  The Hawaii Association of REALTORS® (HAR) is taking steps toward review and reform of the state’s complex Land Use System, with a specific goal of clearing road blocks to affordable housing.  The REALTOR® Party is helping.   

 

“HAR acknowledges our collective responsibility to protect Hawaii’s exceptional natural resources,” says Myoung Oh, the association’s Government Affairs Director.  But, like elsewhere, anyone with development interests in Hawaii must find balance with conservationists, residents and retirees who don’t want new building projects in their back yards; HAR, notes Oh, must constantly combat the perception that its industry is only interested in financial gain.  The other significant challenge, he explains, is that land use in Hawaii is governed by regulations that have been in place since the 1960s and ’70s.  Some of these are simply outdated, and others are redundant; either way, they add costs and unnecessary inefficiencies to the reasonable use of land in the state, including affordable housing.    

Last fall, having reviewed the approval process that a developer seeking to build affordable housing would have to navigate, HAR identified no fewer than seven different layers of land use control.  Even the 201-H statute meant to fast-track affordable housing projects of less than 15 acres didn’t relieve the onerous requirements, including oversight by the quasi-judicial state Land Use Commission.  Investigating the possibility of introducing a bill in the 2016 Legislative Session to delegate state land use jurisdiction over 201-H projects to the respective county governing body, HAR turned to the REALTOR® Party for an expert opinion.  A Land Use Initiative review by Robinson & Cole LLC provided thorough analysis of the proposal, and guidance moving forward. 

The review reminded HAR that any proposal reducing the regulatory burden on developers could spur strong opposition.  It advised the association to take the time to collect more data demonstrating how detrimental state jurisdiction is to the development of affordable housing units.  It also advised holding the proposal until all of Hawaii’s counties had completed the process of designating their protected lands, as those boundaries would have bearing on their proposed jurisdiction over 201-H projects.  Finally, it warned that the proposal could attract criticism for not addressing other barriers to affordable housing development.

“This was all valuable feedback,” says Oh, who acknowledges that although ideally, HAR would like to help effect an overall, holistic reform of Hawaii’s Land Use System, its work will be more effective with a needle, than with a hammer. 

He notes that the upcoming election year presents a number of promising opportunities, and that the REALTORS® will be talking with all the candidates for state office, as well as incumbents, about these land use issues.  “It’s a great model, having candidates and elected officials come in and talk to us about what matters to REALTORS® as professionals, and as members of their communities.  We’ll share ideas, and talk about where our efforts have fallen short, and where we can play a role moving forward.  These conversations, informed by the Land Use Initiative review provided by the REALTOR® Party, help our elected officials see us as a partner in solving land use challenges, rather than an opponent.”

HAR is also now in the process of conducting a major consumer survey to gauge sentiment on everything from construction and traffic, to affordable housing, to the perception of REALTORS®.  “It should be very revealing,” says Oh. “We’ll share the data with our legislators, again, as partners.  And we’ll also use it to inform future consumer awareness efforts, to educate the public about the value of REALTOR® advocates.”     

To learn more about how Hawaii’s REALTORS® are taking the lead on addressing the state’s affordable housing issues, contact Myoung Oh, Government Affairs Director of the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060.

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