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Housing Opportunity Grant

Is Smart Growth the Key to Preserving Montana’s ‘Big Sky?’ Gallatin REALTORS® Funds Study to Find Answers.

In a land known as ‘Big Sky,’ it should come as no surprise that there’s a certain cultural resistance to development density. Yet in Gallatin County, Montana, which has been topping best-places-to-live and best-places-to-retire lists in recent years, tremendous growth is forcing a closer look at the best ways to accommodate the burgeoning population. A Smart Growth Action Grant recently funded a comparative analysis study that will inform the ongoing development debates by clearly quantifying the fiscal implications of dense development versus sprawl.

In fact, the 1,100-member Gallatin Association of REALTORS® (GAR) received two grants to contribute to the complex process of developing a growth plan for the greater Bozeman region: a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant supported the study by an Asheville, NC-based urban planning consulting firm called Urban3; and a $1,500 Housing Opportunity Grant helped to fund an Affordable Housing Summit that brought stakeholders together to begin discussing goals for Bozeman.

“I have a handwritten note of thanks from the mayor on my desk right now,” says Ellen Beck, GAR’s Government Affairs Director. Between the in-depth analysis that was provided by the Urban3 study and the data collected at the Housing Summit, she says, the REALTORS® have earned not only the gratitude of City Hall, but also recognition as a serious partner in discussions about the region’s future growth.

The comparative analysis study, which was completed in July, highlighted the significant return of property tax per acre that would be realized by reinvesting in urban centers and historic commercial corridors; the findings were illustrated by a series of colorful 3-D images that convey relative land value, tax value, and value-per-acre at a glance. On July 11, Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3, presented the study results to three different Bozeman audiences: at a breakfast for the REALTORS®; at a City Hall luncheon for city staff, the local homebuilders association, and developers; and once more in the evening for the general public. Beck, who attended all three sessions, says “The primary goal was to educate the public with this very clearly reasoned analysis. I think a lot of minds that had been skeptical were opened, when presented with the tax implications of building up the urban core, as opposed to on the outskirts, or way out in the country. The graphics made a very compelling argument for Smart Growth.”

Two weeks later, GAR joined the city in hosting an Affordable Housing Summit that gathered representatives from the university and the local hospital, the region’s largest housing consumers; AARP; the Department of Transportation; the school district; the local land trust; and, of course, REALTORS®. A facilitator from the university had small groups work together to answer a series of questions ultimately seeking to determine an acceptable definition of ‘affordable housing’ beyond the HUD standard. “It was a fascinating and highly effective exercise,” says Beck, “and by having teams from such different sectors working together, it really made us all think in broader terms.” City Hall was so thrilled with the results, she says, that it asked the REALTORS® to follow up with an even more comprehensive summit.

“We could not have achieved all this without the support of the National Association of REALTORS®,” notes Beck. “Our goal, going in to these programs, was to inform the growth policy planning process, which will promote Smart Growth development standards and spur an uptick in compact, walkable neighborhoods,” she says. “Another really positive outcome is that the city is looking to us as partners with valuable resources, expertise, and information.”

To learn more about how the Gallatin Association of REALTORS® is working as a valued partner of City Hall to plan the region’s Smart Growth, contact Government Affairs Director Ellen Beck at 406-585-0033.

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Laguna REALTORS® Help Seniors Age-in-Place

‘Aging-in-Place’ is a concept that’s gaining traction across the country, but in Laguna Beach, Calif., where the quality of life is so attractive, it’s especially hard for many seniors to face leaving their beloved longtime homes in favor of safer options. The area’s steep topography and strict environmental zoning mean that building senior housing developments for residents who have contributed so much to the community’s appeal is out of the question. So, over the past two years, the Laguna Board of REALTORS® has used Housing Opportunity Grants to partner with the local agency for senior services, Laguna Beach Seniors, in addressing the challenge.

The Laguna Board of REALTORS® has a long history of community involvement and believes in giving back; in fact, it has supported Laguna Beach Seniors, a non-profit agency, for more than a decade. Says Association Executive Bobbie Jordan, “Securing the first grant in 2017 was part of our ongoing mission to lend a helping hand and be part of the solution to assist seniors with staying in their homes.” That initial Housing Opportunity Grant supported Lifelong Laguna, an aging-in-place program administered by Laguna Beach Seniors. This was augmented by a second grant earlier this year; all told, the funding has enabled Lifelong Laguna to conduct focus groups with numerous partners throughout the community, and to engage in outreach about the Lifelong Laguna Home Modification Assessment. More recently, it has supported workshops on Accessory Dwelling Units, which, once a revision of municipal ordinances is complete, could benefit seniors wanting to age-in-place.

The Home Modification Assessment, just emerging from its pilot stage, has been very effective on a fundamentally practical level, explains John Fay, Program Specialist at Lifelong Laguna. “We go out to a house and identify interior and exterior safety and accessibility issues that could be upgraded, often with slight modifications. Small fixes like installing handrails, improving lighting, even eliminating loose area rugs can all make a difference. Maybe a doorway needs to be widened to accommodate a wheelchair. Sometimes it’s a matter of behavior modification, and we can help with that, too,” he notes. “We have a team of retired contractors volunteering their time and their expertise, and seniors in the program can be matched with volunteers who provide support throughout the process, to build a sense of security and trust. Our volunteers are trained and guided by professional care managers. Our goal is to educate and empower our seniors, giving them the confidence to stay in their homes when it’s possible.”

“REALTOR® involvement brings so much value to what we do with Lifelong Laguna,” continues Fay. “Many folks who bought their homes decades ago worked with REALTORS® who are still active, and several REALTORS® are now volunteering with us at Lifelong Laguna,” he points out, adding, “The REALTORS® are the main funders and volunteers for this community model, and we really couldn’t do it without them!” Jordan adds, “In addition to our volunteer participation, we have many seniors among our REALTOR® members. This partnership between Laguna Board of REALTORS® and Laguna Beach Seniors/Lifelong Laguna is a wonderful way to stay connected with our seniors and to provide assistance where and when needed.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Laguna Beach are using REALTOR® Party resources to help local seniors age in place, contact Association Executive Bobbie Jordan at 949-497-2474 or John Fay, Program Specialist at Lifelong Laguna, at 949-715-8107.

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Sun Valley Board Help Veterans with a Housing Opportunity Grant

 Sun Valley, Idaho has a population of about 21,000. According to the latest census information, that includes roughly 1,500 military veterans, nearly all of whom live below the poverty line. Through the REALTORS® for Veterans program, Sun Valley REALTORS® are providing assistance ranging from finding housing and rent relief to repairs, alterations, and maintenance. A REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant is helping them reach those who need them most.

Amanda Ornelas is Executive Officer of the 320-member Sun Valley Board. She explains that the small mountain community has a high cost of living, and although there’s an Air Force base about two hours away and a training ground for Navy Seals nearby, no real veterans’ services operate in the area. The pride that comes with having served in the armed forces makes it hard for many veterans to seek help, she notes: “Again and again, we hear about individuals who are struggling with housing, but unwilling to admit it. We know there are veterans living quietly, less visibly – camping, even – who need a leg up. If anyone’s going to do something about their housing needs, it’s going to be the REALTORS®.”

The Sun Valley Board has its own charitable foundation, Sun Valley REALTORS® Give, and in 2016 it established the REALTORS® for Veterans program, which it first funded through a 5K race. This year, the board registered the program with the annual IDAHO Gives Day, a statewide online fundraiser for non-profits, which brought in more than $16,000. “Far more income for far less effort than organizing a 5K!” laughs Ornelas. The REALTORS® for Veterans fund was set to provide assistance with rent and deposits, and also supported an annual Repair Fair to help with maintenance, clean-up, safety features, and wildfire abatement. The difficulty was in finding candidates who would come forward and ask for help.

So, the REALTORS® applied for a Housing Opportunity Grant to have a professional marketing firm produce and distribute a video about the program. A young couple who’d struggled for years living in a camper agreed to share their story about how the REALTORS® for Veterans program had helped them to stabilize their family, consolidate debts, and eventually buy a home with a VA loan. A short version of the video was also created, airing as a public service announcement on local cable channels and on social media. “This video has been a huge help for us,” states Ornelas. “We are not swamped with applications, but we’re getting leads and identifying those who need us. That is the goal.” Once the half-page application is submitted, it is reviewed by a panel of REALTORS® who are also veterans; the applicants are more comfortable talking with fellow vets, who in turn have the sensitivity and understanding that only those who have served can bring to the table.

The third annual Repair Fair recently helped a 93-year old WWII veteran and his wife to live in increased comfort and safety in their home, with tree services and contractor services donated by community members, as well as lots of elbow-grease from REALTOR® volunteers. Thanks to the video, the Sun Valley Board is exploring partnerships with like-minded organizations that have come forward eager to help veterans own their homes, and even build them, in light of the local housing shortage, says Ornelas.

“The Housing Opportunity Grant has helped us to change lives,” says Ornelas. “The awareness it’s created will have an ongoing impact, connecting us with neighbors who need the kind of assistance we’re equipped to give. We’re so grateful that the REALTOR® Party has made that possible.”

To learn more about how the Sun Valley Board of REALTORS® is helping its local veterans to secure and maintain housing, contact Amanda Ornelas, Executive Officer, at 208-726-7764.

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Florida REALTORS® Give the State’s Most Vulnerable a Legislative Voice

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a nine-minute video must be…priceless.   But in Florida, the 170,000-member REALTOR® Association is putting a value on ‘priceless,’ one vulnerable household at a time.  Using a Level 3 Housing Opportunity Grant, Florida REALTORS® created a compelling video to convince state legislators to fund Florida’s Affordable Housing Trust Funds at the maximum levels.

The idea for the video came up in discussion with other nonprofits that join Florida REALTORS® in lobbying, year after year, for full funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Funds, says Cheryl Lambert, Florida REALTORS®‘ Secretary and Immediate Past Chair of the Attainable/Workforce Housing Committee.  “We were all used to sitting down and explaining to people how important these programs are, but that only gets you so far. And then I said, ‘It would be great if we could just show them the difference these programs make in people’s lives!'” 

With guidance from NAR staff, Florida REALTORS® applied for and received a Housing Opportunity Grant of $15,000.  “The level of thought required by the application was significant, but worthwhile,” says Danielle Scoggins, Senior Public Policy Representative of Florida REALTORS® and author of the grant application. “With a project this complex, it’s better to have all the planning done on the front end.”    

To find individuals to appear in the video, Florida REALTORS® tapped their 25-member Attainable/Workforce Housing Committee.  “We got them all together on a conference call, and said, ‘We’re looking for folks who’ve benefitted from the state’s affordable housing programs, who’ll be willing to share their stories with the legislature,'” recalls Scoggins.  Committee members got to work and after a careful selection process, followed by scheduling, filming, and editing, the final video will be presented to state legislators this September as they begin to prepare for next session. 

The video features an introduction by the Director for Housing and Community Development in the City of West Palm Beach, who emphasizes that the various programs made possible by Florida’s State and Local Government Housing Trust Funds serve the state’s most vulnerable populations: those experiencing homelessness, the elderly, and veterans. Then come the stories, from different regions, highlighting different populations and the success of several different affordable housing programs.  There’s an older woman from West Palm Beach who lived in her car for two months, in poor health but holding down a job, before she was helped into a stable home by one of the programs.  A young woman who lost her mother and her home at age 19, becoming solely responsible for six younger siblings as well as an infant of her own, credits another state program with helping her to stabilize her family through the purchase of a home; she is now an officer on the Tallahassee police force.  A U.S. Army veteran from Clearwater tells of her heartbreaking inability to find an affordable apartment after she divorced from her husband; elderly residents of a state-subsidized senior residence in Hernando, one of them a former REALTOR®, share stories of retirement savings eaten up by medical bills.     

“I can’t watch the video without crying,” confesses Scoggins.  “It puts a human face on these issues, and will certainly help our state legislators understand the powerful impact of these programs on real citizens—their constituents—around the state.” 

The first completed segment of the project was unveiled at the 2016 Florida Housing Conference.  The final video will complete the larger advocacy project that the association will be rolling out for state legislators this September: a major Affordable Housing Economic Impact Study commissioned by Florida REALTORS®, and a set of one-page infographics customized for each of the one hundred and sixty legislative districts in the state.  Members of Florida REALTORS®‘ energetic Key Contact program, which teams a REALTOR® member with each of the state’s 120 Representatives and 40 Senators, will be sharing the materials with their assigned legislators.  The video, which will be made public in the near future, will send a powerful message to those making decisions about funding the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Funds.

To learn more about how the REALTOR® Party is supporting Florida REALTORS®‘ advocacy to secure affordable housing for the state’s most vulnerable populations, contact Senior Public Policy Representative Danielle Scoggins, at 850-224-1400 x2504.

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Housing Opportunity Program & Grant

Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing opportunities. Review the Frequently Asked Questions for information on criteria and funding disbursement.

Questions? Contact Wendy Penn at 202-383-7504.

Housing Opportunity Grants

Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing opportunities. Review the Frequently Asked Questions for information on criteria and funding disbursement.

Questions? Contact Wendy Penn at 202-383-7504.

Level One – Closed for 2018

Level 1 Housing Opportunity Grants can be used to fund holding the Employer-Assisted Housing (EAH) or Expanding Housing Opportunities (EHO) class; to host a speaker who can address specific affordable housing issues; or to hold a meeting with community stakeholders to develop coalition efforts. Level 1 applications are accepted anytime from January 1 through October 1 with decisions announced approximately one week later. Grant funds are available for up to $1,125. Associations may receive a maximum of one Level 1 grant per year. Grant funds must be used within one year of the award or be forfeited back to NAR.

LEVEL 1 HOUSING OPPORTUNITY GRANT APPLICATION
HOUSING OPPORTUNITY GRANT EVALUATION FORM
HOUSING OPPORTUNITY REIMBURSEMENT REQUEST FORM

Download examples of successful Level 1 Housing Opportunity Grant Applications. Grant recipients must submit an evaluation form (above) upon the completion of the activity for which funds were awarded. A Reimbursement Request Form is required for funding disbursement. Application and forms should be submitted to Wendy Penn.

Level Two – Closed for 2018

Level 2 Housing Opportunity Grants support activities that address a specific affordable housing issue in a community. Activities should involve partnerships and have a broad community reach. Activities previously supported by a grant are not eligible for additional funding. Level 2 application deadlines are the 15th of each month from January through September with decisions announced approximately one month later. Associations may receive a maximum of one Level 2 grant per year. Grant funds are available for up to $5,000. Grant funds must be used within one year of the award or be forfeited back to NAR.


HOUSING OPPORTUNITY GRANT EVALUATION FORM
HOUSING OPPORTUNITY REIMBURSEMENT REQUEST FORM

Download examples of successful Level 2 Housing Opportunity Grant ApplicationsReview tips for successfully completing a Level 2 Housing Opportunity Grant application. A Reimbursement Request Form is required for reimbursement. Application and forms should be submitted to Wendy Penn.

Level Three – Discontinued

Based on a review of program goals and resources, Housing Opportunity grants are now offered at two funding levels.

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Local Virginia REALTORS® Offer Valuable Resource for Future Land Use and Growth

The 650-member Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS® (GPAAR) in central Virginia takes a panoramic view of the landscape, and a long view of the future.  When Culpeper County, one of the five counties it serves, was beginning the arduous task of updating its Comprehensive Plan, GPAAR found a way to be a valuable unbiased resource.

GPAAR Legislative Consultant Susan Gaston explains that the association has built strong working relationships with the county’s professional staff, including those in the Planning Office.  It was while she was brainstorming with the county’s Comprehensive Planning Manager about the upcoming review of the Comprehensive Plan, a strategic guide governing the municipality’s future land use and growth decisions, that she came upon the idea of applying for a Housing Opportunity grant from the REALTOR® Party to fund some much-needed research.   

“The county needed a snapshot of its current housing situation, and a projection of what its needs would be 25 years into the future,” she explains, “but it didn’t have the resources to get this done on its own.”  Gaston worked with GPAAR to secure a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant in that enabled it to commission a housing market analysis and housing needs study from a widely respected regional economist, who at the time was attached to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.    

According to the association’s President, Charles M. Miller, “GPAAR works hard day-in and day-out to be a reliable, trusted source of information to our local governments, whether by providing housing sales data or policy details.  We were thrilled that, using NAR’s grant money, we could give the county unfettered access to data from George Mason University’s David Versel, who analyzed and assessed what Culpeper County has and needs in terms of housing. The county can’t do that for themselves,” he adds, “and we can’t do that for them, but the expertise and third-party objectivity of David Versel can, and did. That’s really significant.”

Gaston notes that the study’s objectivity was critical:  “We let the author of the report loose to collect and compile his own data, with no pre-determined outcome—we wanted to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  In order for it to be of use to the county, it had to be absolutely neutral, and not be perceived as having any REALTOR® bias.” 

When the study was delivered to GPAAR, the association handed it over to the county, refraining from any active lobbying for its use.  After the requisite public hearings and the consideration of the Board of Supervisors, it was included, almost in its entirety, as the Housing Chapter of the Culpeper County 2015 Comprehensive Plan, which the Board of Supervisors approved in September.  The report will now inform future land use decisions, such as the updating of local ordinances and the development of housing programs.  As the basis for future public policy decisions concerning housing in Culpeper County, the report provides a focused, data-driven guide on matters ranging from growth in the senior retirement sector to housing for commuters to Northern Virginia.  

“Our members and the county administrators are really pleased at the outcome of this effort,” says GPAAR Chief Executive Officer Debbie Werling. “Our association has gained more credibility with the county, and even with state officials who represent the county. That’s huge. Plus, other counties in the GPAAR footprint have heard what a fabulous tool and resource the housing needs study is to Culpeper County, and they are inquiring how a similar report can be completed for their area. Clearly, we have a good plan and a good tool, and if it can be replicated to help other communities, we are ready to repeat the process.”

Gaston agrees, adding, “We’ve proven, once again, that we’re the trusted resource for housing information, which we bring to bear in so many ways.”  

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Virginia’s Greater Piedmont Area are helping to guide the planning for their region’s future, contact Susan Gaston, Legislative Consultant for the Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS®, at susan@gastongroup.com or 757-871-1445, or Debbie M. Werling, its Chief Executive Officer, at debbie@gpaar.net or 540-347-4866.

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