Issue Campaigns Success Story

Huntsville REALTORS® Get Out the Vote to Support School District Expansion Funding

With large employers like Toyota/Mazda moving to town and the Federal Bureau of Investigation building a major new campus nearby, Madison, Alabama is the fastest growing city in the region. It has a robust jobs market and housing demand to match – but what hadn’t been keeping up with the growth was the school system: although ranked one of the top in the state, the recent influx of students was driving the teacher-pupil ratio down toward the bottom, and new schools and safety and security measures were badly needed. So, when the City Council proposed a property tax increase to meet the needs of the community’s burgeoning population, the local REALTORS® threw their support behind it.

The real concern, explains Sean Magers, the Director of Association Outreach for the Huntsville Association of REALTORS®, was not opposition to funding the schools, but voter awareness. “The vote came in an off-election year, and we knew that our challenge would be getting voters to the polls.” Working with both the national and state REALTOR® associations, the local REALTORS® were able to support the effort on all fronts, and the community responded with an overwhelming victory for increased school funding.

 

 

The campaign began with polling provided by the REALTOR® Party to see where the public stood on the issue of a tax hike to pay for the construction of a new elementary school, a new middle school, converting an existing elementary school to a district-wide pre-K, and improved school safety and security measures throughout the district. While the Alabama Association targeted local voters with emails, the REALTOR® Party supported a direct mail campaign and live phone calls urging residents of Madison to vote in favor of the ballot initiative; it also sent out REALTOR® Party Mobile Alerts to remind the REALTORS® in Madison to get to the polls – and get their friends, families, and clients to do the same.

The effort paid off:  on Election Day, voter turnout was nearly as high as it had been for the last mayoral election, and the special ballot passed with 71% of the vote.

“It was a real boots-on-the-ground operation, organizing, and mobilizing the industry to protect private property rights,” notes Magers. “As all REALTORS® know, the quality of local schools is a big part of home value and the quality of life in any community. They also know how lucky we are to have such strong markets now, so this is the time to work to strengthen the industry for years to come. Our counterparts at the national and state level were instrumental in helping us achieve that.”

Magers, who is relatively new in his position with the REALTORS®, says he can’t speak more glowingly about the resources the REALTOR® Party makes available to local associations. “Not only are the services and support incredible,” he says, “but while they were working with us, the REALTOR® Party team really made us feel like we were the only association in the country.”

To learn more about how the Huntsville Area Association of REALTORS® is strengthening schools in its fast-growing region, contact Sean Magers, Director of Association Outreach, at 256-763-7798.

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Hilton Head Area and Beaufort Jasper County REALTORS® Lead Winning School Funding Campaign

The economic impact that strong public schools have on a community can’t be overstated. As REALTORS® everywhere know, they attract not only prospective homebuyers, but also businesses looking to locate where there will be a well-educated future workforce. In Beaufort County, S.C., a vibrant community of great natural beauty, major construction, renovations, and updates were needed throughout the school district, which had not had a successful bond referendum – its only source of such funding – in 11 years. When a promising referendum made it to the ballot this year, the Hilton Head Area REALTORS® and the Beaufort Jasper County REALTORS® stepped up to make sure it would pass in November.

Jocelyn Staigar, Government Affairs Director of the 1754-member Hilton Head Area Association, says, “Good schools are a foundation of healthy communities, and a key part of our Quality of Life agenda.” The need for funding in Beaufort County was urgent, she explains: enrollment has increased by more than 3,000 students since the last successful referendum, and the school district is braced for significant growth in the near future. School buildings in the county had deteriorated in recent years as referendums had failed to pass due to a lack of public trust in the school board leadership, which had been plagued by an ethics issue and general dysfunction. With a new school superintendent in place and meaningful turnover on the school board, a new referendum informed by an independent review of the school district’s needs presented a fresh opportunity to try again.

The REALTORS® embarked on an energetic get-out-the-vote campaign to pass the two-part referendum that would total $344 million for projects to improve and enlarge school facilities and programs.

The Hilton Head Area REALTORS® and the Beaufort Jasper County REALTORS® committed 10% of the funding for the campaign and had already received strong support from the state association before applying for an Issues Mobilization Grant. “No GAD should be afraid to call NAR and make use of the programs and services they offer,” says Staigar.  “They’ll hold your hand through the whole process, and help you submit a strong application, so if you’ve never done this before, there’s nothing to worry about. The staff at NAR really is fantastic,” she continues, “Not only is it a pleasure to work with them, but they want you to succeed!” It still takes work, she notes, but having to complete a thorough application means having a detailed plan in place, which is important for the success of any project.

For Beaufort County, the campaign of online ads, a series of live get-out-the-vote calls, and direct mail to voting households carried through to Election Day, when the referendum passed with more than 70% of the vote. “We can’t take all the credit for this success,” admits Staigar, noting that since the last referendum on school funding failed, a significant turnover in school board leadership has given voters a renewed sense of trust and hope. “But we certainly worked hard for this outcome, and it’s had a palpable healing effect on the community. And with each of our issues campaigns, like this one, members of the public are recognizing REALTORS® as being beneficial for the community. High profile efforts like this, demonstrating that REALTORS® do so much more than sell property, are worth every penny!”

To learn more about how REALTORS® in Beaufort County are working to improve the quality of life in their communities with help from the REALTOR® Party, contact Government Affairs Director Jocelyn Staigar at 843-842-2421.

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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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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.

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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.

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