Issue Campaigns Success Story

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these entities are largely dependent on property taxes to fund their budgets and have benefitted for decades from an outdated and murky tax structure and the steady rise in property values across the state.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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Two Local Missouri Associations Help Communities Pass Much-Needed School Bonds

Earlier this spring, two communities on the eastern edge of Missouri found themselves in dire need of improvements to their school facilities, with multi-million-dollar bond measures on the April ballot, poised to provide the needed funding. The Mark Twain Association of REALTORS® and the Southeast Missouri REALTORS® stepped up to persuade the voting public to approve the bonds with vigorous campaigns funded by REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grants and additional funds from the Missouri REALTORS®.  Both efforts were successful, and the schools are getting the funding support they need.

“The Issues Mobilization grants are the best advocacy tool that the National Association provides local and state associations,” says Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations of Missouri REALTORS®.

In Cape Girardeau, Mo., which the Wall Street Journal cited last year as having the most concentrated poverty in the state, the school system is working in partnership with the city to create a Purpose-Built Community that has been successfully modeled in a formerly struggling Atlanta neighborhood; a $12-million no-tax-increase bond was placed on the ballot to renovate and expand schools, and to create a new aquatic center. Terry Baker, Association Executive of the 305-member Southeast Missouri REALTORS®, credits her Government Affairs Committee with having the vision to see that the REALTORS® needed to get behind the effort. The superintendent of schools came to speak with the committee, she explains, at the invitation of one of its members, who is also a member of the city’s school board. “For us, supporting the school bond campaign was a good way to engage in a true partnership alongside people where they work and live. It was clear that strengthening economic development on the south side of Cape Girardeau must begin with education.”  Southeast Missouri REALTORS® contributed $1,200 of its own funds to the campaign, which used polling, live phone calls, digital advertising, and yard signs to promote the school bond, passing with nearly 62% of the vote.  “All those who’ve been involved in supporting the bond are extremely grateful to Missouri REALTORS® and to NAR for their investment in the City of Cape Girardeau,” says Baker.

Further north, in the rural community of Monroe City, the Mark Twain Association of REALTORS® was working to convince voters to approve a property tax increase to raise $13.5 million in funding to improve deteriorating school facilities. REALTOR® Debbie Kendrick, Past President of the 108-member association, and chair of the Friends of Monroe City Schools committee, explains that the REALTORS® were already solidly behind the school bond. “But, when you’re running a campaign in a town of 2,500, you have to know who’s going to be walking in to the polling stations and casting ballots,” she says. So, in addition to the campaign of direct mail, yard signs, print media, advertising in local newspapers and social media, Kendrick and her committee supported the School Superintendent in an energetic speaking tour of local civic organizations, from the Knights of Columbus to the Garden Club. “We helped the Superintendent with talking points, and a member of the school board, as well as a member of the ‘Friends’ Committee, accompanied him on each visit,” she says, adding, “It really was a matter of getting our School District leadership in front of the voters, so they could put themselves on the line!” She notes that the application for the REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization grant was not just user-friendly, but helpful, in forcing the committee to get down on paper what they were doing and why. “We’re very blessed to be able to turn to NAR and the Missouri REALTORS® for funding and guidance; otherwise I don’t know that the bond would have passed.”

Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations of Missouri REALTORS®, worked closely with both boards on their respective efforts. “The Issues Mobilization grants are the best advocacy tool that the National Association provides local and state associations,” she says. “Individual REALTORS® and individual REALTOR® offices are active in their communities, but these grants show the power of the whole association and our dedication to the livelihood of the communities we serve. From a practical standpoint,” she adds, “they are a good way for local associations wanting to become more active politically, but are a bit worried about picking one candidate over another. Issues such as school bonds are usually not as controversial and really elevate the status of the association in the community.”

To learn more about how small communities in Missouri are being strengthened by Issues Mobilization grants, contact: Debbie Kendrick, Past President of the Mark Twain Association of REALTORS®; Terry Baker, Association Executive of Southeast Missouri REALTORS®, at 573-579-9586; or Erin Hervey, Vice President, REALTOR® Party and Local Board Relations.

Read more

Hawai’i REALTORS® Improve Public Education without Property Tax Surcharges

The REALTORS® of Hawai’i want high quality public education throughout their island state. But they oppose the notion of achieving it by amending the state constitution to allow for the creation of a state property tax surcharge on investment properties, as proposed by a ballot initiative in the November 2018 election. Polling services and an Issues Mobilization Grant helped them mount a major effort to counter the proposed measure, leading a coalition of more than 150 organizations.

Ken Hiraki, Government Affairs Director of the 9,700-member state association, explains that although initial polling by the REALTOR® Party showed the troubling ballot proposal was favored among the state’s voters, the National Association of REALTORS® believed it was worth attempting to reverse those numbers with a major public awareness campaign. The grant application was very user-friendly, says Hiraki, noting that NAR’s Issues Mobilization team provided invaluable encouragement, insight, and recommendations throughout the process. “NAR’s support and belief in our cause, even when the initial polling showed us as behind, was what secured the confidence of our coalition partners. We began with four organizations and grew it to well over a hundred. It was a great model of success.”

The campaign featured a two-pronged approach: first, an aggressive education, training, and get-out-the-vote effort among the REALTORS®, who spread the word effectively through their extensive local networks; and second, a coalition-led public media campaign that included television, radio, and newspaper ads, and at least 50 local grassroots events. One of the television spots featured four former state governors discussing the potential detriment to the state and its property and small-business owners. “Once the spots hit, voters finally realized that proponents of the amendment had misled them on the facts,” says Hiraki, adding, “The media also began to report the true facts and the unintended consequences that would result if the measure passed.”

Shortly before the election, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order invalidating the ballot question on the grounds that the language was vague and ambiguous. This legal injunction was triggered by a lawsuit brought by the office of Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell, who noted that he might have not challenged the proposed amendment but for the coalition, which he felt was a credible organization raising legitimate concerns. “Although we were pleased by the ruling, we also knew that we would have won at the ballot box thanks to the support and encouragement of NAR!” states Hiraki. This was proven by the early mail-in ballots printed prior to the court decision and returned by more than 65% of Hawaii voters: the mail-in results showed a 74% opposition to the contested ballot measure.

In addition to the legal failure of the proposed amendment allowing for property tax surcharges, one especially positive outcome for the REALTORS® was that the campaign unified the organization, and strengthened the bonds between REALTORS® on the islands, says Chief Executive Officer Nancy Donahue-Jones. She also notes, “We gained respect from the community as a viable political force, and more than 100 coalition partner-organizations learned that we’re able to deliver.”

Having protected property owners from this particular tax threat, the REALTORS® are actively seeking creative solutions to the problem of inadequate public education: they are looking to partner with the state Department of Education on building rental housing on unused school properties, three of which have already been identified on Oahu. They are also exploring the possibility of adapting existing affordable housing law to give public school teachers first dibs when units become available in new developments.

To learn more about how Hawai’i REALTORS® are working to protect property rights and support public education, contact Ken Hiraki, Government Affairs Director of the Hawai’i Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060.

Read more