Housing Opportunity Program & Grant

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

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.


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

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.


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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Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association REALTORS

When an extreme and aggressive anti-development measure landed on the ballot in Los Angeles early last year, the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS® took action.  It requested a Land Use Initiative review through the REALTOR® Party.  The association also secured an Issues Mobilization Grant for a strong opposition campaign.  Then it joined forces with an unlikely ally: the LA Labor Federation.  Together, Labor and the REALTORS® led a coalition to defeat the measure—one which sought to hold development in one of the nation’s largest cities to a standard established just after WWII. 

Measure S, explains James Litz, Government Affairs Director of the BHGLAAR, would have had a disastrous impact on the city, and set a dangerous precedent for years to come.  Proposed by a deep-pocketed organization seeking to protect its own view of an attractive landmark, the draconian measure would have stopped development completely for two years, and disallowed zone changes in perpetuity, effectively preserving an antiquated piecemeal code dating back to 1946. Beyond the obvious threat to the housing needs of contemporary Los Angeles, notes Litz, there were businesses to consider: “There’s a good chance we’ll be hosting the Olympics in 2024, and we’ve got to prepare.  Imagine restaurants being denied sidewalk seating by our paralyzed zoning code!”  

A counter-initiative called “Build a Better LA” was launched, and while not as restrictive as Measure S, it would have created further barriers to construction by raising labor costs on every development.  BHGLAAR submitted the text of both Measure S and Build a Better LA to the REALTOR® Party to review Land Use ordinances.  The report received back, says Litz, confirmed the REALTORS®‘ deepest concerns about the future of development in Los Angeles, and provided spot-on analysis in support of the opposition campaign that had already been mounted—by the Labor industry.

“Such an extreme proposition required an unconventional coalition,” says Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the LA Labor Federation.  Acknowledging that Labor and Business historically don’t see eye-to-eye, he adds, “In this case, the REALTORS®, having a foot in both camps, so to speak, served as an important bridge, and helped us to form an especially strong and effective coalition.  Their facilitation in bringing together other unlikely partners was key to our success.”

The resources the REALTORS® brought to the effort were also invaluable, he says.  Beyond the legal analysis, they supported the campaign with major funding from the REALTOR® Party, and the active involvement of many BHGLAAR members.  “Our membership was clearly concerned about the high profile ‘Yes on S’ campaign, which had the benefit of a huge inventory of billboards across the city,” reports Litz.  “If they were at all skeptical of teaming up with Labor, they still threw themselves into the coalition’s campaign to defeat the measure.  They participated in phone banks, and put signs outside their homes and offices.  Above all, they engaged in an energetic grassroots social media campaign.”  Television ads, an extensive door-knocking effort, and an educational website called also boosted the opposition effort.

“We found that voter awareness was the key,” says Litz.  “When we could reach people about the truth behind Measure S, their vote turned against it.”  At the end of the day, the measure was defeated by 69% of the vote.

Says Hicks, “I’ve long argued that you don’t ever know someone until you’ve fought with him.  As tried-and-true ‘battle buddies,’ Labor and the REALTORS® are now working together to establish policy that will create more housing and job opportunities in Los Angeles.  Who’d have thought?  In the end, it’s a positive outcome from a dire threat to both our industries.”

Litz adds, “Beyond eliminating the immediate threat, we’ve also been able to leverage our win, politically.  We’ve just bailed the City Council out of a serious situation, and now it’s up to them to be responsive to the needs of the city.  They’re on notice that they must establish a viable new Zoning Plan, and make progress on affordable housing and housing for the homeless.  It’s still an uphill battle, but I think we’re already seeing a glimmer of progress.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Beverly Hills and Greater Los Angeles are forging strong partnerships to protect and promote housing and business opportunities in their metropolis, contact Government Affairs Director James Litz at 310-704-2767.


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REALTORS® Promote Affordable Housing for the Los Angeles Workforce

A recent report from the California Housing Development Office indicates that while the state population is growing significantly, its production of affordable housing units in the last decade has fallen way short of the demand. The statistics didn’t surprise Mel Wilson, a seasoned Los Angeles broker who’s been concerned about the shortage of housing for middle class workers for years.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and the increasingly steep competition for medium-range properties is a reality we just can’t ignore: our agents are making offers on behalf of middle-income clients on four, five, six different houses, to no avail.” Not only is it a frustrating experience for would-be homeowners, he notes, but many of them are having to live well over an hour away from their place of work, which puts a great strain on the health and well-being of workers, their families and the environment. The issue snowballs, he adds, when businesses move out of state because they can’t find the workers they need where they are located.

At an NAR conference a few years ago, Wilson, who also serves as Government Affairs Director of the 9,500-member Southland Regional Association of REALTORS® (SRAR), voiced his concerns about middle class housing access to Holly Moskerintz, NAR’s Community Programs Outreach Manager. She told him about two REALTOR® Party programs designed to help his local association explore solutions to the problems the region was experiencing; through these, SRAR was able to offer an Employer-Assisted Housing course, and sponsor a Workforce Housing Forum called “Housing Our Workers,” in early February 2017.  

The back-to-back events were part of an overall plan to educate REALTORS® and the public, and to motivate them toward a plan of action, says Wilson. The four-hour Employer Assisted Housing course attracted nearly 50 REALTORS®, who learned out how to form a team and contact employers to discuss how they can offer home buying guidance and financial assistance to their employees. The Housing Our Workers Forum, held the following day, was funded in part by a Housing Opportunity Grant, and was co-sponsored by the Valley Economic Alliance and BizFed Institute. 

This day-long event was free and open to the public, drawing more than 200 participants from the community. Its packed program included hardship testimonials from workers who travel great distances from home to work in Los Angeles; remarks by Scott Syphax of Nehemiah Corporation of America, a California-based social enterprise and real estate development firm; and a keynote speech by Ben Metcalf, Director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The heavy lifting took place in six breakout groups focused on Labor Partners, Social Benefits, Government Partners, Neighborhood Advocates, Public-Private Partnerships and Traditional & Creative Financing.  Each of the forty panelists in these sessions was asked to respond to three questions:  How did we get here?  How can my agency contribute to an increase in housing options?  and How can I be personally responsible for helping the cause?  The results of each breakout group were tabulated and presented to the whole assembly via PowerPoint following the morning and afternoon sessions.

The Housing Our Workers forum garnered significant press coverage in the massive southern California market, raising awareness of the workforce housing shortage—and the REALTORS®‘ efforts to address it. The principal goal of the forum was met, as well, reports Wilson: “We brought representatives of all stakeholder groups to the table, to hear each other’s side and engage in civil discourse regarding the need for more middle class housing in Los Angeles.” Now that they’ve identified commonalities, he says, they can build on them.  Looking ahead, as they work to overcome differences, learn to compromise, and continue to listen to each other and share ideas, SRAR will be there, meeting the affordable housing challenges in its region.

To learn more about how REALTORS® are working to create more housing for the Los Angeles workforce, contact Mel Wilson, Government Affairs Director the Southland Regional Association of REALTORS®, at (818) 534-2400 ext. 2424.

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Medina County Ohio REALTORS® Improve, Invest in Community with REALTOR® Party Grants

With nearly 800 members keeping their ears to the ground, the Medina County Board of REALTORS® (MCBOR) never has to wonder what the needs of the community might be. In 2016, it met three such needs with funding assistance from the REALTOR® Party’s Housing Opportunity Grants and a Placemaking Grant. Ranging from housing for disabled veterans, to vegetable gardens for low-income citizens, to improving a bike path for the public, these projects demonstrate the deep level of investment these MCBOR REALTOR® professionals have in their community. 

Sherry Stell, MCBOR’s Association Executive, explains that her organization has strong Housing Opportunity and Legislative Committees, but that its community service issues emerge organically, without any systematic approach. “If the need is there, members will call it to our attention, and we’ll try to find out if it is possible to obtain a grant within the REALTOR® Party program,” said Stell. For example, a MCBOR committee member who serves as a trustee of one of Medina County’s townships recognized an opportunity for the REALTORS® to contribute to public fitness when a former golf course in his township was being converted to a public park and required funding to transform golf cart paths to mountain bike paths.  The Placemaking Grant program does not fund repair work on existing paths, but this fall, MCBOR succeeded in securing a $1,300 grant for a park map and information display case branded with the Medina County Board of REALTOR®S name and REALTOR® logo, along with a “Saddle Buddy” mountain bike repair and cleaning station.

Another significant community service project for MCBOR came about when one of its members handled the sale of a property to an organization that planned to convert the home to housing for disabled veterans requiring round-the-clock care. “That’s how we found out about Newbridge Veterans Place,” says Stell. “Our membership is more than happy to support our veterans.  Newbridge Veterans Place became the beneficiary of our Annual Charity Bowl-a-Thon, which attracted more than 140 participants and raised more than $3,000.” Along with a $5,000 NAR Housing Opportunity Grant and three REALTOR® Care Days, MCBOR volunteers donated their time and skill to help the organization get the property up and running. “So much was needed in this seven-bedroom home to get it ready to house low income/homeless and disabled veterans,” notes Stell. “Our members helped with painting, hanging blinds and setting up the kitchen, in addition to purchasing and moving furniture into the home.” 

Yet another project arose because of MCBOR’s longstanding support of Medina Creative Housing, an organization that promotes the development and management of permanent affordable housing for people with disabilities. In the past, the REALTORS® have received a REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant to support the programmatic goals of the charity’s Life Skills Lodge as a comprehensive occupational therapy environment. “This year,” reports Stell, “they wanted help installing raised garden beds, to help residents to grow their own produce and sell the excess at the farmers’ market for income. Our community is so fortunate to have this amazing organization, and this project, in particular, helps the broader population by providing fresh locally grown vegetables. It’s a real win-win.” On a hot day this summer, a team of MCBOR members got together and met at the site to build the garden beds, with materials paid for by a Placemaking Grant. As always, Stell put the word out among her affiliate members, who not only pitched in to help, but provided coffee, donuts and pizza. “Our members are very supportive of each other in these efforts,” she adds, “whether it’s with hard labor or coffee service.  Knowing that the REALTOR® Party is behind them with all its resources, makes all of us feel like we really can make a difference when these needs arise.”    

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Medina County, Ohio are making an impact on their community with the help of the REALTOR® Party, contact Sherry Stell, Association Executive of the Medina County Board of REALTORS®, at 330-722-1000.

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Virginia REALTORS® Join in Partnership to Address Rural Housing Opportunities

Early this year, when a string of deadly tornados struck Virginia, the REALTORS® set out in force, providing relief in affected areas. That’s when leaders at the Virginia Association of REALTORS® (VAR) were first struck by the isolation and vulnerability of many rural regions across the Commonwealth.  “The lack of connectivity made it an extraordinary challenge getting resources to those who needed them,” recalls Claire Forcier-Rowe, now President of VAR. “We were just short of door-knocking.” So, when the non-profit organization Housing Virginia approached VAR to partner in a Rural Housing Initiative grant it had received from the USDA, the association agreed wholeheartedly.

Tornados aside, identifying and addressing the needs of rural housing is critical, as it pertains to at-risk populations, and as a basic component of community sustainability throughout the Virginia countryside. As the state attempts to bring prosperity to its rural zones, any economic development projects will rely on viable housing for a prospective workforce.

VAR was one of the organizations that founded Housing Virginia, a statewide clearinghouse of housing resources and information, and the two entities have worked closely together for more than a decade on numerous projects. For this one, triggered by the USDA grant, VAR identified five local associations that operate in rural localities and helped them to apply for Housing Opportunity Grants from the REALTOR® Party. The Greater Piedmont Association of REALTORS®, Southside Virginia Association of REALTORS®, Chesapeake Bay & Rivers Association of REALTORS®, Southwest Virginia Association of REALTORS® and the Martinsville, Henry & Patrick Counties Association of REALTORS® were each awarded grants of $1,000, and together with VAR and Housing Virginia, conducted a series of Rural Housing Forums across the state to address housing challenges particular to rural areas.

For three of these associations, it was the first time reaching out to request resources from the REALTOR® Party, and that success, in itself, was a powerful boost for their confidence in leveraging future REALTOR® resources. Over the course of the summer, that esteem only grew as their respective forums gained momentum and resulted in a body of valuable findings that was presented to the Governor’s Housing Conference in November, together with a set of preliminary recommendations.

Each of the forums was hosted by the local REALTOR® Association at a no-cost venue, and attracted between 30 to 65 citizen stakeholders, government officials and housing lenders. At each location, Virginia Housing Executive Director Bob Adams presented a program using statistical information based on VAR’s housing data for the particular region, and group discussions were conducted around a series of pre-determined questions. Participants tackled a number of difficult issues that contribute to increasing housing-vulnerability for rural residents. 

In general, the forums uncovered that the overall quality of rural housing stock is in decline, and the availability of affordable housing is extremely limited. The diminishing inventory forces rural population egress, leaving behind a disproportionate aging population, which in turn causes a drain on public social services. At the same time, the severe lack of affordable rental housing in most rural areas feeds a vicious cycle: there simply isn’t the population present to create a demand for developers to build the units.

At this high-level information-gathering stage, the local associations agree, results aren’t going to happen tomorrow, but acquainting policy-makers with the valuable data collected at the forums is an important first step towards addressing the real needs of many Virginia communities. So is increasing public awareness, and just prior to the Governor’s Housing Conference, The Roanoke Times published an op-ed about the findings written by Kit Hale, a VAR past president and the chair of Housing Virginia. “We are thrilled that NAR is supportive of this undertaking to call attention to small communities, whose housing challenges are often overshadowed by those of denser areas,” Forcier-Rowe says. “At a policy-level, and at a humanitarian level, it’s been great to see people come to the table and face these challenges,” she adds. “By working to understand the present needs of our rural neighbors, we are honoring the legacy of rural Virginia, and conserving the integrity of rural communities for future generations.”

To learn more about how Virginia REALTORS® are working to focus attention on the challenges of housing affordability and availability in their state’s rural areas, contact Jenny Wortham, the Virginia Association of REALTORS®’ Director of Community Outreach, at (804) 262-3755.

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Hawaii REALTORS® Look to Create Housing Opportunities for the Homeless

Living in Hawaii may seem like a pipe dream to mainlanders, but for many residents of the tropical paradise, where the homeless population is the highest per capita in the nation, life there is not so dreamy.  With the support of a Level Three Housing Opportunity Grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, the state association and two local REALTOR® boards are working to connect Hawaii’s landlords and property managers with programs that help people who are homeless to rent rooms or apartments.

The first Landlord Summit was conducted last fall by the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, in Honolulu, where the state’s greatest concentration of homelessness exists.  It was attended by the governor and the mayor, and by about 300 landlords, property managers and REALTORS®, in addition to numerous social services agencies there to support landlords who were willing to rent units to people who’d been living on the streets.

“We know this is a very difficult and emotional issue for many people, and through the efforts of our local REALTORS®, we hope to begin finding some light at the end of this tunnel,” says Hawaii Association of REALTORS® Government Affairs Director Myoung Oh.  “Our goal is to educate those in a position to provide apartments, and to alleviate the misinformation that often leads to mistaken impressions of people in need.  There are many levels of homelessness.  We want to find shelter for those on the streets and also prevent any more people from slipping through the cracks when they can’t make rent.”

Oh states that, “We, as an organization, are trying to do our part, because we’re a small-knit family, one big ohana.  We have to begin by talking to individuals who can make a difference in the lives of others.” 

On Maui, where at least 5,000 people do not have homes, and a third of the population spends more than 50% of its income for rent, housing instability has reached crisis proportions.  David DeLeon, the Government Affairs Director of the REALTORS® Association of Maui, says that parts of the island resemble a third world country.  The good news, he notes, is that Governor David Ige takes the problem of homelessness across the state very seriously, and is pro-active in his commitment to solving it.  His staff attended the Landlord Summit on Maui in June.  “The REALTORS® are credible leaders on housing issues, and it’s our responsibility to raise awareness,” says DeLeon.  “If a summit gets potential landlords thinking, ‘Let’s clean out the cottage, or the back room, and give it a try,’ then that’s a good start.”

The Landlord Summit on Maui brought about 100 property owners in contact with numerous agencies and programs that provide security deposit and rental assistance, case management, translation services and mental health hotlines; as well as local government officials who were ready to hear concerns about zoning restrictions.  “In a small community,” says DeLeon, “just getting a story about the summit on the front page of the newspaper of record makes people think.  Making the need known, and highlighting the opportunities and the safety nets that are in place, can make a difference.”

The “Big Island” of Hawaii is so diverse from end to end, that its REALTOR® Association received a Housing Opportunity Grant to sponsor two landlord summits earlier this year, one in Hilo (East Hawaii), and the other in Kona (West Hawaii).  Kehaulani Costa, Association Executive of Hawaii Island REALTORS®, explains that an especially important aspect of both events was honoring landlords who were already working with social services to help families and individuals in transition to get off assistance.  “By highlighting the successes of these landlords who had accepted formerly homeless tenants, we were able to give their peers at the summits the chance to see that others were actually doing this, and that it’s working.  They were able to ask questions, and in the end, I think many understood that this is not just about the rental income, but about helping the community.” 

At the Hilo summit, where about 160 prospective landlords were in attendance, 26 units were committed for rental to Section 8 tenants or clients of other social service programs.  In Kona, 120 attended and fourteen units were pledged.  “That’s not going to take care of everyone who needs housing,” says Costa, “but it’s a start.  Those landlords will become role models for their own neighbors, and create a ripple effect.”  She hopes that her board will be able to make the summits an annual event until the rental assistance programs gain greater traction.

“This grant made it possible for us to be a part of the conversation, and part of the solution,” says Costa.  “Thanks to the REALTOR® Party, our board can bring financial resources to the table, but we don’t have the man-power to do the leg-work; the housing non-profits we’re working with are mission-driven, with plenty of vision and volunteers.  Together, it’s a wonderful, powerful collaboration.”

To learn more about how Hawaii’s REALTORS® are working with governments and social service agencies to combat homelessness, contact Myoung Oh, Government Affairs Director of the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060; David DeLeon, Government Affairs Director of the REALTORS® Association of Maui, at 808-243-8585; or Kehaulani Costa, Association Executive of Hawaii Island REALTORS®, at 808-935-0827.

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Richmond REALTORS® Tackle Vacant Properties, Affordable Housing and Win

Historic Church Hill, on the east side of Richmond, Virginia, has seen better days. Centuries after Patrick Henry sent up revolutionary sparks there, declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death!,” the neighborhood of modest brick row houses and shotgun bungalows features a high concentration of public housing, abandonment and blight. Now, building on the success of workshops for stakeholders, new legislation and the establishment of a Community Land Trust, the Richmond Association of REALTORS® (RAR) is moving swiftly and surely to improve Church Hill’s fortunes with an ambitious plan for infill-development of affordable housing.

There’s no time to lose. As Laura Lafayette, RAR’s Chief Executive Officer, explains, the city’s need for affordable housing is dire, but the private sector is catching on to Church Hill, and the market is escalating quickly. “It’s stunning, how many vacant, tax-delinquent structures there are in the neighborhood,” she says. “With enough money, we could completely de-concentrate the housing crisis. But if we don’t step up and preserve some of these parcels for affordable housing while we can, we’re going to have a hard time solving the problem at all.”

The solution was catapulted forward last fall, when RAR was tapped by the National Association of REALTORS® through the REALTOR® Party to pilot two workshops in collaboration with the Center for Community Progress, a non-profit focused on eliminating urban blight. “This was a great opportunity for us to bring thoughtful people to Richmond to address complex issues of local housing markets, vacant properties and land banks, all in the context of neighborhood revitalization,” says Lafayette. By inviting the cities of Norfolk and Danville to be involved in the workshops, RAR also strengthened its position behind legislation advancing its efforts to transform blight into affordable housing.

Early in 2016, a law was passed allowing a Virginia municipality to create a land bank, or to designate an existing non-profit to serve as a city’s land bank. The bill had been sponsored by a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Danville whose staff had participated in RAR’s housing workshops, and also received support from the Virginia Association of REALTORS®. Within weeks of the law being in effect, the City of Richmond established a Community Land Trust (CLT), incubated by RAR’s Partnership for Housing Affordability, the association’s not-for-profit arm that will act as the CLT’s fiscal sponsor until it gains traction. Efforts are now underway to have the CLT designated as the city’s land bank. “We won’t be able to accomplish that until after the elections, when we’ll have a new mayor and five new council members,” notes Lafayette, “but that’s the value of having a PAC: it gives us the opportunity to communicate with all the candidates, so that after the election, we won’t have to do too much re-education.”

In the meantime, with RAR’s encouragement, the city of Richmond is stepping up its efforts to dispose of the vacant properties it owns. Once the new land bank system is up and running, the CLT will be able to acquire properties identified by its board for a single dollar, instead of having to bid for them at auction. Within the urban core of Church Hill, the CLT will either build on vacant lots or revive blighted properties to be sold as affordable housing. The CLT will retain ownership of the land beneath each house, and future sales of the homes will be based on the appraised value of the structure itself, with the equity split 50/50 between the homeowner and the CLT, which will offer its share as a discount toward the next purchase of the house.

“That’s how the housing will remain affordable,” explains Lafayette, adding, “We won’t have to replicate the infrastructure, and we’re not looking to re-invent the wheel. We have a strong pipeline of partners whose expertise is just what we need: development and construction experts, lending partners who are very good at qualifying aspiring homeowners, and pro-bono legal counsel to make sure prospective homeowners understand the complex shared-equity re-sale formula. And, of course, we’ve got no shortage of great REALTORS®!”

The most important task, she says, is the delicate work of community engagement in a city that struggles with its past. “RAR wants to be part of the solution that mitigates the negative effects of gentrification. That’s the value of working with so many local non-profit partners. They know their neighbors, and will help us to build into the fabric of the Church Hill community in a way that benefits longtime residents, as well as newcomers.”

To view an interactive map of targeted Church Hill properties commissioned by Richmond’s new Maggie L. Walker Community Land Trust, visit:!/vizhome/MWCLTTargetParcels/MWCLTTargetParcelsMap. To learn more about how REALTORS® in Richmond are helping to foster neighborhood revitalization by transforming vacant properties into affordable housing, contact Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of REALTORS®, at 804-422-5000.

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Austin REALTORS® Accept Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness

Last summer, Mayor Steve Adler issued a challenge to the City of Austin to end homelessness among its U.S. veterans by Veterans Day 2015. The ambitious goal, a direct result of a national initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, would take a major coordinated effort from the community leadership to succeed. The Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) answered the call in a big way.

Basing its response to the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness on the best practices of Houston and New Orleans, two cities that had achieved that same goal, a coalition of Austin’s leading business and civic organizations planned a three-step approach: first, identifying veterans in need of housing; second, getting them immediately into temporary hotel and motel housing arrangements and enrolling them in appropriate social services; and, finally, moving them in to permanent housing. “The second step is critical,” explains Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst in ABoR’s Public Affairs Department. “If you think of a normal rental situation, it takes more than a single day to take care of the lease arrangements, the background checks, the banking requirements, etc. Now, imagine you can’t locate or contact your client from day-to-day, and what a barrier that would be to a successful move. Getting the veterans into safe and stable temporary housing for a week or two is essential to expediting their moves to permanent housing.”

With a $15,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, ABoR was the sole funding source in facilitating these transitions to longer-term housing arrangements. The ABoR Foundation also provided $5,000 to a fund called Housing for Heroes that would mitigate risk for potential landlords, a contribution that prompted a matching gift from the Austin Apartment Association. ABoR also engaged its many property management members in the effort, and they proved to be an invaluable resource for rental housing stock.

ABoR Chief Executive Officer Paul Hilgers, a member of the Mayor’s Challenge taskforce, says that it’s been a great opportunity for the REALTORS® to demonstrate their leadership in Austin’s business community. “It has been politically meaningful, as well, being involved in an area not typically thought of as ‘REALTOR® territory.’ Our involvement has helped to establish important relationships with civic leaders working to solve the problems of homelessness,” he

notes, adding, “we’re showing that there’s depth to REALTORS® beyond selling real estate, and that REALTORS® care about, and are able to help solve, community challenges.”

Ann Howard, Executive Director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the organization coordinating the direct service work, asserts that, while they are still waiting to hear if federal benchmarks were reached, the system created in response to the Mayor’s Challenge is making sure housing needs are met. “Having the Austin Board of REALTORS® at the table with us was critical to getting the word to property owners and managers that we needed rental housing for veterans experiencing homelessness,” she says. “REALTORS® with access to duplexes and four-plexes brought options to help meet needs of diverse veteran households, and helped secure enough housing to make hundreds of placements possible. With REALTORS® and property managers on the team, Austin has created a supportive housing system that should make veteran homelessness rare and non-recurring.”

Hilgers states that Austin’s REALTORS® should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. He reminds all REALTORS® that no matter how small their town, they have the largest trade association in the community, which means the ability to have major impact in the local area, in addition to being part of the largest trade association in the country.

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Austin have taken a leadership role in helping the city’s veterans access adequate housing, contact Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst of ABoR’s Public Affairs Department, at 512-454-7636.

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Job Growth Creates Housing Opportunity

It’s the kind of “problem” that most cities wouldn’t mind having: companies like Amazon, IKEA and Mars Candy opening or expanding facilities within city limits. Joliet, Illinois is experiencing impressive job growth, and is seeking to convert commuters and renters into local homeowners; it has even announced a $650,000 down payment assistance program.  All it needed to do was reach those potential homebuyers.

That’s where the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® (TRAR) stepped up to the plate.  As Gideon Blustein, a Local Government Affairs Director at Illinois REALTORS® (IAR) explains, the 1,005-member association had identified Joliet as a target community for increased engagement, and strengthening relations with the new mayor and local government had been written into TRAR’s strategic plan for 2015/16.  Using a $4,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from The REALTOR® Party to cover much of the expense, the Three Rivers Association partnered with the City of Joliet, the Will County Center for Community Concerns and IAR to host the first-ever “Experience Joliet Homeownership Exposition,” on a Saturday in April at Joliet West High School.  The event was an all-out success, drawing about 250 consumers who were there to learn about buying a house in Joliet.

The goal of the expo was three-fold:  first, to highlight the robust down payment assistance and counseling programs available to prospective homebuyers; second, to promote community amenities and resources that make Joliet an attractive place to live; and, finally, to showcase five diverse homes that were on the market, and direct consumers to the nearly 100 open houses that would take place the next day.

Five weeks prior to the expo, about eighty TRAR members and affiliates attended a “lunch-and-learn” at which Blustein and colleagues from the city presented the nuts-and-bolts of Joliet’s new down payment assistance program.  The incentive is not just for first-time home buyers; it’s available to all who meet a certain income level—one that intersects with most of the current job growth in the area.  During the program, the expo organizers signed up most of their vendors, who didn’t have to pay a fee, thanks to the Housing Opportunity Grant.   

The free event was heavily marketed online and through digital billboard screens at grocery store check-outs.  When visitors arrived in the morning, they were greeted by thirty-six vendors, from real estate companies to lenders to inspectors, as well as representatives from the local Fair Housing organization and community services like the public libraries, transportation and schools.  “The student ‘ambassadors’ who represented their schools were pretty awesome,” says Blustein, adding that, “Direct interaction with these kids was so much more meaningful for families considering moving to Joliet, than just reading about the schools or hearing about them from a grown-up.”  TRAR also arranged for a community group to provide activities for children, so that parents could focus on the resources at hand.  During the expo, two sponsoring organizations gave presentations on home-buying basics and financial resources available to Joliet homebuyers.  At least 40 REALTOR® volunteers were on hand, making sure everything ran smoothly.

At noon, twenty participants were transported by mini-bus to five available houses in five different Joliet neighborhoods, with the city’s Director of Neighborhood Services acting as tour guide.  “The mood on the bus was effusive,” recalls Blustein.  “Many of those on the tour had just met with lending counselors, and were able to see what they could actually afford, or where they might be with a little work repairing their credit.  They all seemed to feel, at that point, that they’d been given the tools they needed to start the process.  It was one of those moments when we knew we were making an impact.”

The local press covered the story of the Joliet housing expo, and the REALTORS® are hoping to make it an annual event.  “It certainly strengthened our ties with the municipality and our various community partners,” notes Blustein.  “Thanks to the good working relationships we’ve developed, we’re the ones they’re going to call when they need industry expertise.  It’s been a big win-win.”

To learn more about how the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® is getting the word out about homeownership opportunities in Joliet, Illinois, contact Gideon Blustein at Illinois REALTORS®, at  or 847-899-1873

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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 or 757-871-1445, or Debbie M. Werling, its Chief Executive Officer, at or 540-347-4866.

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