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Indianapolis REALTORS® Spearhead Expanded Public Transportation Funding

The Indianapolis metropolitan region is the 33rd largest in the nation, yet funding for its transit services ranks way down at 86th.  For years, the 7,500-member Mid-Indiana Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR) has been working to shrink this gap, and with two recent REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grants, it has just succeeded.

MIBOR Vice President of Government and Community Relations Chris Pryor states that the REALTORS® are committed to improving transit for greater access to jobs, education, healthcare, recreation and housing.  But it’s more than a simple quality of life issue for the community, he says: “Adequate transit is also the key to keeping greater Indianapolis economically competitive, in terms of being able to attract business and accommodate a talented workforce.  Transit is a critical factor in the region’s future prosperity.”

In 2009, MIBOR was instrumental in forming the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, which identified significant need for increased transit services in the region, and then developed a plan for an expanded bus network and the creation of three new rapid transit lines.  Establishing a local funding source for the improved infrastructure required the blessing of the Indiana General Assembly, a process that took five attempts in six years before finally passing in 2014.  The next step was getting a local referendum passed to adopt a 0.25% income tax that would be dedicated to funding mass transit.  A major Issues Mobilization Grant funded a coalition effort called ‘Transit Drives Indy,’ a campaign combining phone banks, radio and online advertising, and a website urging voters to pass the ballot initiative for a dedicated transit fund.

On Election Day 2016, the referendum passed with nearly 60% of the vote, winning 19 out of 25 city council districts.  Already, MIBOR and its coalition partners were looking ahead to the final  hurdle:  ensuring that the Indianapolis City County Council would vote to approve the tax. 

MIBOR had secured a second Issues Mobilization Grant to support the coalition’s post-referendum strategy, which focused on getting pro-transit voters to apply pressure to city councilors to enact the tax.  After a few intensive weeks of targeted patch-through calls from constituents, the City County Council approved the tax in a vote of 17-to-8.

Lacey Everett, MIBOR’s Government and Community Relations Strategist, says “The campaign we put together was key in getting us over the top, and we couldn’t have done it without the support and resources of the National Association of REALTORS®.  Beyond the funding, the Issues Mobilization team was a great sounding board for lots of ideas, and responded quickly to challenges that arose during the campaigns.”  By 2018, she says, the newly established transit fund will begin building a system that will double employment within a half-mile of frequent routes; triple service to families in poverty, seniors and households including someone with a disability; and expand economic opportunity by providing access to three urban college campuses.  

Pryor notes that the urgency of the region’s transit funding needs was heightened by the nationwide power shift following the elections, which made federal funding that the region had been expecting, uncertain, at best. “Although we still don’t know whether we’ll be receiving a Federal Small Start Grant, at least Indianapolis will be able to move ahead with its much-needed transit plan, once the new tax kicks in this fall.”

To learn more about how mid-Indiana REALTORS® are helping to promote economic development and a greater quality of life in their region by taking the lead on supporting mass transit expansion, contact Chris Pryor, MIBOR’s Vice President of Government and Community Relations, at 317-258-5805; or Government and Community Relations Strategist Lacey Everett, at 317-956-5252.

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Land Use Initiative Lends ‘Horsepower’ to Greater Northwest Indiana Zoning Challenge

The Greater Northwest Indiana Association of REALTORS® (GNIAR) has been successful in tapping in to various REALTOR® Party resources in the past few years, including Placemaking Grants, RPAC Major Investor Event-Based Fundraising Grants and Level III Smart Growth Action Grant that is now supporting a county-level Parks Master Plan Update.  But when GNIAR Chief Operating Officer Joe Wszolek read in a local paper about proposed commercial zoning regulations in the town of Munster this past February, he knew a different kind of support was needed, and fast. 

The ordinance was put forth in response to the sensitive issue of a commuter rail line coming from downtown Chicago to Munster, IN, which Wszolek describes as one of the region’s premier communities.  While the council member who introduced it was clearly trying to keep Munster from becoming the same commercial franchise as other towns on the line, the REALTORS® recognized it as artificially restricting free enterprise.  “The intention was understandable,” says Wszolek, “but its effect would ultimately be negative, rather than positive.  It would be detrimental to the mom-and-pop businesses that it was trying to protect.”

Wszolek had read about the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative program, and immediately contacted Maggie McShane, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at his state association, who helped to get the ball rolling.  Once the request was granted, GNIAR sent the proposed ordinance to Robinson & Cole, the firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® to review and comment on land use issues.  “We were on a really tight deadline, and I didn’t even know if it would be possible,” says Wszolek.  “Not only were they incredibly responsive, but they highlighted areas of concern that I hadn’t even recognized as issues.”  In the meantime, GNIAR reached out to the local homebuilders’ association and a network of statewide retail businesses, to join together in voicing opposition to the ordinance.

Wszolek presented the Town Council with a letter from 2017 GNIAR President Nathan Reeder, clearly stating the association’s concern that the proposed regulations would have a negative impact on property values and real estate marketability in Munster; as well as expressing GNIAR’s desire to help the council and other stakeholders to develop an alternative course of action.  He followed up with the memorandum provided by Robinson & Cole, detailing its findings: the first section outlined various grounds on which the proposal could be susceptible to legal challenge; the second raised issues that could be harmful to the town, should it adopt the proposed ordinance.    

At the next Munster Town Council meeting, much to Wszolek’s surprise, the council member who had introduced the ordinance made a motion to reject it, citing objections from the REALTORS® and numerous business owners.  She took the opportunity to comment that her proposal wasn’t intended to be ‘anti-real estate,’ but, rather, an attempt to create the best possible atmosphere in Munster.  The proposed ordinance was defeated by a unanimous vote.

Says Wszolek, “It was the best possible outcome, and we couldn’t have done it without the high quality review and technical support provided by the REALTOR® Party.  We were able to maintain a helpful, non-adversarial stance, and our involvement was well received by the Town Council.”  As the GNIAR logo says, he adds, “We are the voice for real estate in northwest Indiana: we have all sorts of resources available, and we’re happy to sit down and craft a solution for the benefit of all.”

To learn more about how the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of REALTORS® is protecting property values and the marketability of real estate in its region, contact Chief Operating Officer, Joe Wszolek, at 219-795-3600.

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Indiana Association Helps Elect Five REALTOR® Champions to Statewide Offices

It’s always helpful to have a REALTOR® in the house…not to mention REALTOR® Champions in the state Senate and attorney general’s office! In Indiana last year, five campaigns that received support from NAR’s Campaign Services division swept to victory, assuring industry-friendly legislators just where the Indiana Association of REALTORS® (IAR) needs them. The 14,600-member association helped elect two incumbent state representatives – REALTORS®, no less, two incumbent state senators and a state attorney general who was up for re-election. NAR funding paid for radio ads for all five. 

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