The State Key Contact Grant will provide resources and consultant expertise to help states create, grow or revise a REALTOR® grasstops advocacy program much like the Federal Political Coordinator program.
Looking for RPAC Conference Grants? NAR is now offering REALTOR Party Conference Grants instead. This is a perfect opportunity for state associations to host their own REALTOR® Party Conference in an effort to educate members and further the mission of the REALTOR® Party.
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.
In the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, one of the nation’s earliest tourist destinations and a favored second-home location, the pronounced lack of affordable housing limits service industry opportunities for a would-be workforce. The drain on the economic sustainability of the broader community is already being felt: two of the region’s most popular tourist attractions have been forced to partially and temporarily close in high season, due to lack of staff. Looking ahead, a recent report projects that first-time home purchases will be down in New Hampshire in the next five to ten years. But, with a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant, the 150-member White Mountain Board of REALTORS® (WMBR) has helped communities to envision solutions and begin to remove barriers to affordable housing by sponsoring design and planning charrettes in partnership with the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition (MWVHC.)
“To me, it’s a no-brainer!” states 2018 WMBR President Theresa Bernhardt, explaining that Victoria Laracy, the executive director of MWVHC, had reached out to the REALTORS® for help funding the charrettes. “We have access to these REALTOR® Party funds, and this is what we do: provide housing.” Two charrettes held in October 2017 were the third such project that WMBR has sponsored since 2013, each one building on the work of the previous charrettes. A charrette is an intensive design and planning exercise that brings together representatives of all stakeholder groups; in the towns of Bartlett and Conway last fall, that meant hard-working teams of planning officials, bankers, property representatives, REALTORS®, architects, engineers, site planners, construction estimators, neighbors, local businesses and workers in need of housing.
Laracy, whose organization has planned and hosted each of the programs, cuts to the chase: “These charrettes demonstrate how the economics of development need for zoning to be in place in order to achieve adequate affordable housing in a free market. In both Bartlett, where there is a 0% vacancy rate, and Conway, where the rate is 1%, our teams demonstrated that significant affordable housing could be created, with a reasonable rate of return for the developer, if zoning restrictions were changed, even slightly.” The official report from the October charrettes has been shared with the communities and local legislators, as a first step to address zoning updates. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the REALTORS®,” she says.
Bernhardt, who was one of two REALTOR®-members of the Conway team, says, “It’s a fascinating process, watching completely well thought-out, viable plans being presented at 6:00 PM on what was a blank piece of paper at 9:00 AM. To have all these experts at the same table working on a given project involving real, available parcels of land, was an incredibly efficient and productive way to go about finding options and eliminating others.” She reiterates Laracy’s assertion that zoning was the stumbling block to affordable housing for both town teams: “Under current zoning, we discovered that the seven-acre parcel of land we were working with could only support 28 total units of housing, which was not an economically viable project for any developer. But if zoning were to allow for increased density, then 70 units could be built on the same parcel, twenty of which would be offered as affordable housing, with a near 8% annual return to the developer. Those are the kinds of numbers that make projects like this feasible. They clearly demonstrate why we need to work with our planning boards to change the zoning ordinances that are restricting affordable housing.” She adds that, in addition to an open community discussion at the outset of the process, the final charrette presentations were attended by over sixty local residents. “There is real concern, and real engagement. The REALTORS® are proud to be part of the group that is seeking solutions and moving them forward.”
An Overview of the October Charrette
The Design Reveal
To learn more about how the White Mountain Board of REALTORS® has been helping to pave the way for more affordable housing in its communities, contact 2018 WMBR President Theresa Bernhardt at 603-986-5286; or Victoria Laracy, Executive Director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, at 603-662-5482.
The REALTOR® Party provides the following grants to state and local associations to help create, promote and sustain a vote, act and invest culture of advocacy.
REALTOR Party Conference Grants (For state associations)
RPAC Fundraising Grants (For state and local associations)
In the highly desirable downtown neighborhoods of Traverse City, Michigan, affordable housing is scarce. Bounded by a beautiful bay of Lake Michigan on one side, and Boardman Lake on the other, the city’s land base is already largely built, and development is further limited by zoning that restricts building height to 65′. According to Kim Pontius, CEO of the 900-member Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR), this presents challenges for the economy of the city, whose largest employers are located downtown; for the surrounding counties, which rely on the urban property tax revenue; and for the REALTORS®, who aren’t able to respond to the demand for affordable housing where it is needed.
With a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant, TAAR helped the city engage a specialized consulting firm to create a 3D economic model demonstrating the potential tax revenue from various possible development configurations. “This is just the information needed to assist developers and the City Commission in making good decisions for the community,” says Pontius, noting that the municipal budget didn’t allow for this level of analysis. In fact, it was the City Manager and the head of the city Planning Department who brought the project to TAAR’s attention, and asked for funding assistance: the REALTORS® of the Traverse City region have earned a strong local reputation, when it comes to Smart Growth projects. The $15,000 grant covered about half the cost of the analysis, and the balance was funded by the city and county.
The report itself was dramatic and clear. “I’ve been involved in economic development and transportation planning long enough to know that the whole world changes when you begin looking at situations in 3D, instead of 2D,” says Pontius. Urban 3, the firm we hired, has tremendous expertise in addressing all the issues and conveying results with powerful visuals.” The Asheville, NC-based firm spent several months collecting data, then developed its report, using colorful three-dimensional graphics that revealed beyond question where the highest tax-value development could occur. Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban 3—and a very engaging speaker—presented his findings to a broad audience on four separate occasions, all of which TAAR helped promote: at a downtown theatre, at a local school auditorium, at the opera house and at a Rotary Club meeting.
The report, called “Building Potent, Lasting Value in Traverse City,” is posted on the city website, and that of TAAR, as is a link to Minicozzi’s presentation.
“It was no surprise that the highest taxable value by far is in the heart of the city,” explains Pontius. “What Joe did was to show just how much higher, while attempting to enlighten the audience that going vertical is the only way to capture ample tax revenue for the city and county to prosper.” Using examples of other cities that have limited building heights, Urban 3 showed how such restrictions will ultimately defeat the prosperity goal. The report drills down and reveals that 52% the land in Traverse City is actually un-taxable, and therefore not part of the revenue stream, and shows the critical difference between a parcel’s true cash value and assessed taxable value.
Pontius reports that TAAR’s support of the project has only strengthened the association’s healthy working relationship with the municipal and county governments. “The head of the Planning Department and the City Manager can’t say enough good things about the help the REALTORS® have provided,” he says, adding, “It’s clear we’re continuing to serve the best possible future of the city. Now that the report exists, the data will be an ongoing critical reference. Meanwhile, it’s planted seeds, and gotten people thinking.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of greater Traverse City, Michigan are helping to educate planning commissions at the city, county, and township level, contact Kimberly R. Pontius, CEO of the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS®, at 231-947-2050.
“Insurance companies have told us that Summit County is ‘Ground Zero’ for wildfire risk, despite never having had a major wildfire,” says Sarah Thorsteinson, Chief Executive Officer of the 580-member Summit Association of REALTORS® (SAR). To this dubious distinction, in 2013, the Governor’s Taskforce on Wildfire added several troubling recommendations: that there be a disclosure at the point of sale that a home is at high risk for wildfire; that a website be created rating individual properties for wildfire risk; and that costly mandatory mitigation measures be put in place, along with an additional property tax. Concerned about the expense to property owners and would-be home-buyers, and the stigma this could mean for certain homes on the market, the REALTORS® set out to prove that voluntary programs could be just as effective in curbing wildfire risk. So far, the state government has allowed counties time to do just that, but the legislative threat has remained real.
“Our Board of Directors recognized the need for us to be proactive,” says Thorsteinson. SAR developed a campaign whose three goals are: to educate the public to encourage voluntary mitigation of individual properties; to prevent mandatory requirements that would prove costly and detrimental to homeowners; and to continue building the positive image of REALTORS® as professionals who care about the community.
For several years, the Summit Association and the Colorado Association had been sharing the expense of producing a mailer publicizing Summit County’s popular free chipping program. The service encourages property owners to clear defensible space around homes and bring the potential wildfire-fuel to the curb, where the county workers collect and chip it several times per fire season, converting it to bio-fuel.
In 2016, SAR created a Defensible Space Fund to help local families safeguard their properties. The fund was promoted on the mailers, and REALTOR® members began getting calls from the public. “Mitigation is not cheap—clearing can cost up to $300 per tree. And, understandably, people are afraid they will have to clear cut their properties,” says Thorsteinson. “But, in fact, creating a defensible space around a structure can add value to a property by admitting sunshine and increasing views.” In 2017, the REALTORS® were able to fund the mitigation of three properties. At the same time, a Game Changer Grant from the REALTOR® Party allowed SAR to publicize the county chipping program on television and radio, making the public even more aware that without voluntary mitigation, the government recommendations could be instated. REALTORS® handed out work gloves and protective eyewear at local events, and volunteered to help seniors with clearing.
The REALTORS®‘ efforts are making an impact: the Lake Dillon Fire & Rescue Squad recently presented an award to Thorsteinson recognizing the association’s work. Local arborists and tree services are promoting the SAR Defensible Space Fund, and several have joined the association as affiliate members. Perhaps most telling is that when Thorsteinson had the opportunity to testify before the state legislature’s Wildfire Matters Review Committee recently, rather than revisiting the threatened mitigation mandates, committee members asked if she needed seed money to replicate SAR’s programs across the state. “It’s been a real win!” says Thorsteinson. “We are thrilled to have been able to run such an effective campaign, and are so grateful to the REALTOR® Party for all its support.”
To learn more about how the Summit Association of REALTORS® is leading the way in educating property owners about wildfire prevention and mitigation, contact Chief Executive Officer Sarah Thorsteinson, at 970-468-8700.
East Lansing, Michigan, home of Michigan State University, is a town with serious budget troubles. Escalating legacy costs had been kicked down the road for years, explains Mark Dickens, Vice President of Policy and Operations at the 1,000-member Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS® (GLAR), adding that the City Council, mired in various divisive issues, had long focused on the generation of tax revenue, rather than solving the root problems. When two seats on the Council came up for election this year, with two incumbents fighting to retain them, GLAR was ready to help the fresh new candidate who was willing to listen to voters, and open to bringing about much-needed change.
The fact that Aaron Stephens is still a student at Michigan State was beside the point, says Dickens.
“Aaron may be young, but he impressed us from the beginning,” Dickens reveals. The political science major, a life-long Michigan resident, scored the highest on GLAR’s preliminary questionnaire for candidates, and was the only one of the three in favor of working with the university, and the Chamber of Commerce, to tackle the problems facing the city. GLAR applied for and received its first-ever REALTOR® Party Independent Expenditure Grant, which produced three mailers and an online advertisement for Stephens. “NAR held our hand through the whole process,” says Dickens, noting that “NAR’s Campaign Services team was unbelievably helpful. Once they had our information, they just ran with it!”
The election season saw a lot of mudslinging, and the REALTORS® endured some heated abuse after their PAC filing report was published by a critic on Facebook. “We stayed well out of the mud, and so did our candidate,” says Dickens. “The REALTORS® were being referred to as ‘outsiders’! If the people living and working in your neighborhoods, helping people buy and sell homes and make it a better place to live and do business are ‘outsiders,’ then you’ve got a real problem,” he adds, wryly.
“Over the weekend prior to Election Day, in the worst Michigan weather imaginable, our candidate knocked on more than 2,500 doors. He was the only candidate reaching out to voters that way, and the voters responded,” says Dickens. Because Independent Expenditure Campaigns in Michigan are not allowed any contact with the candidate, Stephens didn’t actually learn about GLAR’s support until he was shown the fliers featuring his picture and platform when he was out campaigning door-to-door. Although the GLAR Board Members had agreed to endorse Stephens, the secretive nature of an IE campaign meant that they were also surprised by the staff-driven effort.
Their candidate won a seat on the City Council by 379 votes.
“We had been told, ‘Good luck trying to change anything in East Lansing!'” says Dickens, “but if anything, this campaign has made us even more determined to try. Aaron already has two City Council meetings under his belt since the election, and clearly understands the challenges. He’s just the person to take them on. We’re very proud to have helped him get where he is, because he’s going to help East Lansing.”
In two years, continues Dickens, the mayor’s seat will be up for grabs, and GLAR is working with the Chamber of Commerce on a strategy. The election has also strengthened the REALTORS®‘ relationship with the university. “If we can’t make a town with 50,000 students vibrant, there’s a problem,” says Dickens, “but now we know we can: NAR has given us the opportunity to achieve something for this community that was, until very recently, only a dream.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Greater Lansing are working for positive change in East Lansing by taking an active role in municipal politics, contact Mark Dickens, the association’s Vice President of Policy and Operations, at 517-325-9046.
Oklahoma City is experiencing a huge downtown boom, but its infrastructure has not kept up: roads, sewers, and parks are in dire need of improvement, and growth on the outer edges of the metropolis has been stretching available funds away from the city center. As a major General Obligation (GO) Bond and a temporary penny-sales tax approached a renewal vote this year, the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (OCKMAR) joined the city in promoting meetings to help craft new bond proposals to shore up critical infrastructure and provide a much-needed infusion of support for the police and fire departments. With a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant, OCKMAR helped get voters to the polls for the special election, and those voters overwhelmingly supported the bonds that would strengthen their city and protect its future property values.
While Oklahoma City voters have traditionally renewed their support of the GO bond and the more recent penny sales tax extension every decade or so, what made this round of municipal funding so successful was a completely new approach by the City Council, explains Gary Jones, OKCMAR’s Government Affairs Manager. “In the past, major players on the council staff would put together their best guess at a proposal that would win public support. What was so smart this time,” he reveals, “was that the council put a lot of effort in to finding out what the community wanted and needed, before the proposal was put on the ballot.” Between town hall events, a city-wide survey and numerous exploratory meetings, he says, by election day, there was already a high level of community buy-in, and no serious opposition to the fifteen line items proposed.
As a member of the Board of Advisors of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, OKCMAR had been involved since the early stages, over a year ago, when the city began figuring out where to make its investments in infrastructure. Several OKCMAR members worked closely with their council members to develop the ballot proposals, and two testified in support before the Council. On behalf of the coalition called Citizens for a Better OKC, created to support the ballot proposals, OKCMAR secured an Issues Mobilization Grant to fund a direct mailing to targeted voters; OKCMAR also opted to add its entire annual Corporate Ally Program allotment to the cause. Because this was a special election, says Jones, the concern was that people might not bother to vote.
But, vote they did: On September 12, in addition to renewing the GO Bond and the temporary penny-sales tax that were up for renewal, Oklahoma City voters authorized the city to collect an additional quarter-cent tax on every $100 in purchases, to be used to enhance the municipal police force and fire department. The three bond initiatives approved by the voters will go a long way toward improving infrastructure and the viability of neighborhoods throughout the city, says Jones. “It goes without saying that not just the quality of life, but the future of property values are directly tied to those improvements,” he notes. “We are very proud of the REALTORS®‘ role in this success for the city, and grateful for the overwhelming support from the REALTOR® Party that made it possible.”
To learn more about how the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® has forged a role for itself in crafting municipal funding priorities and getting them approved at the polls, contact Gary Jones, Government Affairs Manager, at 405-841-5322.