Issue Campaign

Wisconsin REALTORS® Urge State Senate to ‘Hold the Line’ on Property Taxes

Property taxes are already plenty high in the state of Wisconsin – the fifth highest in the nation – and in the first budget bill introduced by the new governor, there was a provision to increase them even further. With help from an Issues Mobilization grant, the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA) launched a campaign called ‘Hold the Line on Property Taxes’ that made voters’ preferences abundantly clear to the statehouse.

The 2019-2021 budget proposed by Governor Tony Evers would have lifted a freeze on municipal and county property tax levies enacted by the state in 2011, which has meant considerable savings for Wisconsin families in recent years, explains Joe Murray, WRA’s Director of Political Affairs. “High taxes are already a real problem, especially for aspiring home-buyers and the elderly on fixed incomes,” he says. “The governor’s plan would have made housing even less affordable.”

WRA had the luxury of a two-month planning period before e xecuting its full-blown advocacy campaign, for which it allocated $250,000 of its own funds, in addition to receiving the Issues Mobilization grant. They used a local consulting firm with more than 20 years’ experience in Wisconsin politics to conduct initial polling and frame the onslaught of digital, direct mail, radio, and billboard advertising; they also created a campaign website. Murray notes that, “the old legacy media really worked best in this case. Direct mail, which was superbly targeted, combined with heavy advertising on conservative talk-radio shows, was a powerful combination, and created a significant political force.” Three rounds of mailers were sent out, spelling out the property tax issue and equipped with handy tear-off postcards to forward to the senator representing that household. “Let’s just say the governor’s plan to raise property taxes really touched a nerve,” says Murray. “The reaction was strong and swift, and the Wisconsin state senate did, in fact, ‘hold the line’ on property taxes!”

Lacking the support of the senate, the governor signed the budget without the tax increase provision on July 3, 2019.

To help express tax-payer gratitude, the final mailer in the campaign series featured a tear-off ‘thank-you’ card to senators for ‘holding the line’ on property taxes.  “You want to reward your friends,” says Murray.

With 32 years on the job and several such campaigns under his belt, Murray is continually impressed by the strength of NAR’s advocacy program. “Seven or eight years ago when the REALTOR® Party was really ramping up and encouraging states to tap into its resources, Wisconsin was glad to do so – and to great effect! We’re grateful to the REALTOR® Party for all the support it makes available to us.”

To learn more about how Wisconsin REALTORS® are keeping vigilant and protecting homeowners from the threat of increased property taxes, contact Joe Murray, Director of Political Affairs, at 608-575-0023.

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Texas REALTORS® Achieve Tax Reform for Texas Property Owners

In Texas, where there’s no state income tax or a state-levied property tax, it’s the tax bills from your county, your municipality, your school district, and various other special districts that’ll get you. All these entities are largely dependent on property taxes to fund their budgets and have benefitted for decades from an outdated and murky tax structure and the steady rise in property values across the state. At the same time, property owners have seen higher and higher tax bills, and more than a few have been forced to sell as a result. Texas REALTORS® have been battling the ‘Hidden Property Tax’ inherent in the system for years, and on June 12, 2019, with a boost from a sweeping Issues Mobilization campaign, the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act was signed into law.

“We are so grateful to the REALTOR® Party for its support of our Hidden Property Tax campaign, which helped shift the statewide discussion on the need for property tax reform,” says Tray Bates, 2019 Chairman of the Board of Texas REALTORS®. “The campaign also provided legislators with the support they needed to feel confident their actions were in the best interests of, and desired by, their constituents.”

“This is huge,” adds Daniel Gonzalez, the association’s Chief Lobbyist and Director of Legislative Affairs.  The ‘Hidden Property Tax,’ he explains, results from the misleading claim by local taxing entities that they have not raised ‘taxes,’ when, in fact, they mean ‘the tax rate.’ The rise in appraisal value ensures that their tax revenue increases, along with the tax burden on property owners, despite a level tax rate. If property owners see contesting higher appraisal values as their only recourse, they will inadvertently devalue their investment – and local market values. The new law addresses these issues with two important reforms:  first, the creation of online databases providing taxpayers with a transparent understanding of the process that determines their annual property tax bills; and second, a lowered threshold for increasing public revenue via property tax collection and a mechanism requiring voter approval for increases beyond the established thresholds.

The Hidden Property Tax campaign was fully comprehensive, reaching REALTOR® members, consumers, and legislators with a website, social media, direct mail, earned media, and online advertising. As consumer confusion over the property tax structure was a significant part of the problem, Texas REALTORS® made a concerted effort to educate the media about the issues, with enhanced media relations, including a special three-part media-training series last year. “Journalists really are interested in seeking out sources and getting their facts straight,” notes Gonzalez, “and while the challenge is that journalists tend to be transferred to different beats and different markets, we’ll just keep helping them to understand the real estate issues. In the end, we’re building a valuable network of professionals whose business is presenting information to the public.”

Housing affordability is a problem all over the country, Gonzalez adds, noting that another beneficial side-effect of this campaign has been demonstrating to the public that the REALTORS® are not in it for themselves and their industry, but for their clients and property-owners throughout the state. “Making sure homeowners have the information they need about their property taxes is going to result in healthier, stronger communities, and that’s good for everyone. History will show that this legislation will have a tremendous impact on homeownership in Texas.”

To learn more about how Texas REALTORS® have succeeded in reforming the taxation process and protecting property owners in the great state of Texas, contact Daniel Gonzalez, Chief Lobbyist and Director of Legislative Affairs, at 512-370-2143.

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Greater Los Angeles and Southland Regional Association REALTORS® Join Forces to Defeat Parcel Tax

On the heels of a highly publicized teachers’ strike earlier this year, the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to ride the wave of success by calling for a 16-cent per square foot parcel tax on all residential and commercial buildings. It claimed that Measure EE, as it was called, would support students; opponents saw it as an opportunistic attempt to fund the mismanaged budget of a bloated school system.  The REALTORS® of the Greater Los Angeles Association (GLAAR) and the Southland Regional Association (SRAR) joined a broad coalition of local business and industry organizations to oppose the measure as unfair and irrational, soundly defeating it at the polls.

As James Litz, Government Affairs Director of GLAAR, explains, Measure EE would have cost the owner of an average house in the city about $200 per year, starting in November. But the association’s real concern was the cost to owners of the city’s commercial and apartment buildings, who would be taxed by square footage on every floor. “Besides which,” he adds, “this tax wasn’t a solution to the real budgetary problems the school district is facing: the fiscal house of LAUSD is a mess, so why throw money at it?”

Using an Issues Mobilization Grant, the REALTORS® and their partners were able to rally voters to the polls for the single-measure special election – the cost of which, itself, was $12 million dollars to taxpayers, notes Litz. “Our coalition was able to put together a strong media campaign, with great ads running constantly on MSNBC,” he says. They also made extensive use of door hangers, which he points out, from a REALTOR® standpoint, give members direct and effective contact with clients and neighbors.

The campaign benefited from the involvement of the Southland Regional Association of REALTORS® (SRAR), as well, whose bounds also include the beleaguered school district. Elizabeth de Carteret, the association’s Director of Industry and Community Relations, was already mobilizing her members for a city council special election that fell on the same day as the parcel tax vote, so they rolled the campaign against the parcel tax into their effort. “We have lots of members with kids in the public schools, and members who volunteer in them; we also know, as REALTORS®, that good public schools sell properties – we’re not against any of that,” she says. “This was a just a calculated money grab, and one that would unfairly burden property owners.” SRAR’s REALTOR® members manned three phone banks, spoke at office meetings, went door to door, and engaged in an active social media effort.

On June 4, the misguided measure failed in 14 of the 15 City Council districts in Los Angeles.

Litz notes that the REALTORS® will gladly support meaningful reform of the school district’s financial practices – and systemic improvements in public education. “We realize it may be easier said than done,” he says, “but our young people deserve quality and options when it comes to public education, and we’re all for making that happen!”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® in Los Angeles are protecting property owners from unfair tax burdens, contact Greater Los Angeles Association Government Affairs Director James Litz at 310-967-8800; or Elizabeth de Carteret, Director, Industry and Community Relations, Southland Regional Association of REALTORS®, at 818-947-2256.

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Utah REALTORS® Think Ahead to Prevent Affordable Housing Shortage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sacramento and Pacific West REALTORS® Join Forces to Keep Rent Control off the Ballot

Campaign Mailer

Sometimes, you’ve got to spend money to save money. That was the strategy of two local associations in California, as they launched parallel campaigns to prevent rent-control ballot initiatives from qualifying for the November 6 election. One succeeded, and the other did not, but both agree that it was well worth the effort — and worth the REALTOR® Party’s Issues Mobilization resources that made the campaigns possible.

In the city of Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, a tenants’ rights organization was attempting to get a rent control initiative with a provision for just-cause eviction on the ballot. Christine Schachter, Government Affairs Director of the Pacific West Association of REALTORS®, explains that the measure ran completely counter to the REALTORS®’ stand on many issues, notably property rights. “With such a measure in place, new housing supply would be greatly discouraged. Not only would it have been debilitating for Long Beach, it would have been a damaging precedent for dozens of other cities in our region.” If enough signatures were gathered to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, when voter turnout is sure to be high for congressional elections, it would have stood a good chance of passing, says Phil Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific West REALTORS®. “I’m not sure there’s any amount of money that could have defeated it at that point, so it was necessary to invest up front and keep it off the ballot,” he states, adding, “Our directors told us to spare no expense, but even though we were ready to put all our eggs in this one basket, we still could not have succeeded without the National Association behind us.”

The “decline to sign” campaign was a largely educational effort, countering the signature-gathering with multiple social media platforms, including a website, and a video featuring firefighters, policemen, and other REALTOR® allies. Every day, teams of REALTOR® volunteers and paid advocates were deployed to oppose the petition effort at grocery stores and on door-to-door rounds. A tear-off mailer offered voters a postage-paid chance to oppose the petition: more than 1,000 were signed and sent to City Hall. The initiative failed to make it to the ballot, and Hawkins credits his REALTOR® volunteers with much of the success. “Our nearly 13,000 members understand the importance of advocacy and political action. More than 50% invest in the REALTOR® Action Fund every year, and this is exactly why they do.”

Meanwhile, REALTORS® up north in Sacramento were facing a very similar situation. Caylyn Wright, Government Affairs Director of the nearly 7,000-member Sacramento Association of REALTORS® (SAR), notes that despite its robust social media campaign against the rent control initiative in the capital city, the signature-gatherers were only collecting door-to-door, which forced SAR into an uphill battle, following behind in an attempt to change individual signatories’ minds. Although the initiative qualified for the ballot with the necessary 36,000 names, Wright says that the REALTORS® raised their profile as serious opponents to rent control, and know that the educational nature of their campaign has had lasting value. They are not giving up: when Sacramento’s mayor recently proposed setting a temporary rent cap, 175 REALTORS® showed up at the City Council Meeting wearing opposition t-shirts and convinced the Council otherwise. SAR is now working with the Vice Mayor and several council members on a Tenant Protection Act that will help stabilize housing without causing as much harm to future development. “We’re so grateful to both the National Association of REALTORS® and the California Association for their timely support,” says Wright. “Although our campaign didn’t work out as we’d hoped,” she says, “it has positioned us as leaders as we all work together to solve these complex housing issues.”

To learn more about how REALTORS® across California are working to solve housing access and affordability by other means than rent control, contact Caylyn Wright, Government Affairs Director of the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®, at 916-437-1227; Phil Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific West Association of REALTORS®, at 714-245-5522; or Christine Schachter, its Government Affairs Director, at 714-221-8474.

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