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Issues Mobilization

Lincoln REALTORS® Mobilize Voters to Support Roadway Improvements

After substantial potholes caused massive damage to vehicles amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in claims, the city of Omaha, Neb., was recently forced to close two major thoroughfares. Fifty miles to the south, roads in the state capital were likewise crumbling.

Using an Issues Mobilization grant, the REALTORS® Association of Lincoln took the lead in supporting a ballot initiative to fund critical road repairs. Though it passed by a very slim margin, says Kyle Fischer, Executive Vice President of the 930-member board, the quarter-percent sales tax increase will help safeguard the city’s economic development, public safety, and quality of life for at least the next six years.

The new funding mechanism was first proposed by a bi-partisan group called the Lincoln Citizen’s Transportation Coalition, following a lengthy study of the city’s insufficient street-repair budget and possible solutions, explains Fischer. The Lincoln City Council voted six-to-one to put the initiative on the ballot, and the REALTORS® got right to work promoting the time-limited, quarter-percent tax increase to the voting public.

“We reached out to NAR about the process, and they walked us through the next steps,” says Fischer. First, the Lincoln REALTORS® received polling services through the REALTOR® Party’s trusted vendor. Initial polling indicated that the ballot measure was slightly favored by a margin of 57-41, with 2% undecided. Armed with that encouragement, the association submitted an application for an Issues Mobilization grant. “The application process wasn’t quick and easy, but it was incredibly user-friendly, he says. “I’d tell first-time applicants to give themselves plenty of time for collecting details and background information and planning a budget. It will take some time to put it all together, but once you have, you’ve got a good road map, and you’ll really know your stuff. In fact, NAR took our initial application and reached right back out to us about what we could do to enhance it, to make it even stronger,” he notes.

The REALTORS® were the largest donor to the campaign called Fix Lincoln Streets Now, which educated voters through a dedicated website and social media messaging. The REALTOR® Party grant funded phone banks that called voters in the last four days leading up to the election, and that, says Fischer, is what made the difference. Despite being supported by the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Civil Engineers Association, and the Lincoln Independent Business Association, among others, the measure only passed by a difference of 368 votes. “Our members are so excited that we were able to play such a critical role in the outcome of the vote,” he adds. “It’s very gratifying to know that the REALTORS® have contributed to making the streets better.

Members on the ground and in the trenches are more aware than anyone that having functioning, passable streets affects every aspect of a community’s well-being, from emergency access, to reducing the necessity of expensive car repairs, to home values. Taking care of the infrastructure helps to ensure a strong economy.”

To learn more about how the REALTOR® Association of Lincoln, Nebraska is using REALTOR® Party resources to improve the condition of city streets, contact Executive Vice President Kyle Fischer at 402-441-3625.

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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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Successful Florida REALTORS® Campaign Leads to Property Tax Limits on Non-Homestead Properties

In Florida, where non-homestead properties represent a significant proportion of all real estate, a 10% tax cap on such properties was set to expire in 2019. For the state’s economy and real estate markets, the effect was likely to be devastating. For approximately 700,000 Florida property owners, it meant a projected $700 million-plus increase in additional property taxes annually. So, with the backing of NAR, Florida REALTORS® brought like-minded organizations around the state together to convince 60% (plus one) of the voting public to pass a constitutional amendment to make the tax cap permanent. More than 66% of the electorate agreed, and the measure passed.

Eric Sain, 2019 President of Florida REALTORS®, explains that REALTORS® had been working to limit the non-homestead property-tax cap for several years, and the “Amendment 2” campaign was the last of a four-phase effort. “Our Office of Public Policy worked closely with the Florida Legislature to help educate them on the need for the 10% cap. When the state legislature passed the ballot measure for the 2018 ballot, we spun into action and formed a campaign team to educate the public. It was critical to avoid massive tax increases on business owners, investors, snowbirds, and renters. It would certainly have made the affordable housing crisis that Florida is experiencing even worse.”

One of the most important aspects of the campaign was an active Ambassador program, which identified, trained, and organized more than 100 REALTOR® members to be the industry’s “voice on the ground,” says Sain. “Because our association staff and volunteer leaders can’t be everywhere, we needed informed members across the state who were willing to speak to the media, and to fellow members, colleagues, neighbors, and community groups to spread the word and explain the importance of Amendment 2.”

“Our biggest challenge was the issue of public awareness,” he continues, “and helping voters understand that this tax cap affects everyone in the state, not just owners and renters, and that passing the amendment would keep our economy strong. This is where our REALTOR® members made all the difference.”

The Amendment 2 campaign relied on direct mail; television, radio, and social media advertising; and print collateral branded with the campaign logo in its messaging. Polling and focus groups also played a significant role throughout the campaign, notes Sain. “We continually evaluated the mood of the voting public,” he explains. “This helped us determine how best to allocate our limited resources most effectively, in response to what we learned.”

 Amendment 2 is now in effect. Looking forward, Sain says that the experience, perspective, and preparation that the REALTORS® gained from the campaign is invaluable. Although there’s no comparable effort on the immediate horizon, the campaign staff in the association’s Office of Public Policy is ready for the upcoming 2019 legislative session. “We’re especially proud of the success and hard work of our Ambassador program. With this in place, we can accomplish anything,” he adds.

To learn more about how Florida REALTORS® has protected Florida property owners and prevented increased pressure on the state’s economy and affordable housing situation, contact Florida REALTORS® Public Policy Office at 850-224-1400.

 

 

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Arizona REALTORS® Lead the Charge against a Tax on Services

Last fall in Arizona, a superhero named “PAT” swooped in to town, enlightened the voting public, and saved the day: it was the cartoon personification of the Protect Arizona Taxpayers Act, a ballot measure that prevailed in the state’s November 2018 General Election, resulting in a constitutional amendment to prevent any new sales taxes on services. A REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant gave PAT a big boost, together with substantial backing from the Arizona REALTORS®’ Issues Mobilization Fund.

It was an issue that spoke right to the heart of the REALTORS®’ mission to protect home ownership, says Nicole LaSlavic, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Arizona Association of REALTORS®. “When a governmental body institutes sales taxes on services, the resulting increase in taxes impacts citizen’s pocketbooks and could ultimately affect their ability to own a home,” she explains, noting that numerous services directly related to the real estate industry were at risk of taxation, including construction, plumbing, lawn care, heating and air conditioning, appraisals and inspections. “It was in the REALTORS®’ best interests to act to prohibit sales taxes on services for once and for all.” While the REALTORS® provided the lion’s share of funding for the campaign, they were joined in the effort by other industry groups representing services such as childcare, certified public accountants, bankers, attorneys, and the healthcare sector.

The comprehensive statewide campaign to ban taxes on services involved REALTOR® members at the grassroots level, collecting signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Following that success, mailers, a website, rounds of live phone calls, and newspaper, radio, and television ads were all developed and put into play. “The biggest response was to the television ads, with the animated superhero, ‘PAT,’ coming to ‘save the day from the evil politicians who want to take your money!’” says LaSlavic. “It really got people’s attention and gave the fairly dry tax issue a colorful and memorable treatment.” The REALTORS® decided to maintain the website as a helpful resource.

The Protect Arizona Taxpayers Act ultimately passed with 64% of the vote, well over the required 50% plus one, but that margin represents a big leap from where prospects stood before the campaign got started. “We conducted polling throughout,” explains LaSlavic, “and while our initial numbers prior to any campaigning were not great, once we began educating voters, the indicators turned right around.”

The Arizona REALTORS® are grateful for the support of the National Association, and LaSlavic notes that she encourages the state’s local associations, large and small, to apply for REALTOR® Party grants of their own when they face issues that could benefit from the support and expertise of the REALTOR® Party. “The team at NAR is very helpful in navigating the application process, so that by the time it goes forward, it’s in the best possible shape.” Regarding the Issues Mobilization Grant that helped secure the passage of the Protect Arizona Taxpayers Act, she says, “Arizona’s more than 50,000 members are very happy – and those who were directly involved are extraordinarily pleased!”

To learn more about how the Arizona Association of REALTORS® has protected the state’s taxpayers from a tax on services, contact Vice President for Government Affairs Nicole LaSlavic at 602-248-7787.

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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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Greater Nashville Regional Council Recognizes Williamson County REALTORS®

The Marshall S. Stuart Memorial Award for Intergovernmental Cooperation was presented to the Williamson County Association of REALTORS® (WCAR) among other entities for their support of a successful referendum for funding to facilitate school construction/renovation projects.

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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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Palm Springs REALTORS® Defend Short-Term Rental Industry

The sunny resort city of Palm Springs, Calif., is such a popular tourist destination that when its thriving cottage industry of privately operated short-term vacation rental properties was threatened by a recent ballot initiative, even the hotel industry rallied against it. But it was the 1,200-member Palm Springs Regional Association of REALTORS® (PSRAR) that sprang to the defense of private property rights with a powerful campaign made possible by a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant. The proposal was defeated 70% to 30% at the June 5 primary.

“Any way you slice it, this was a huge win for us,” says PSRAR Government Affairs Director Jim Franklin. He explains that fairly strict regulations had just been imposed on the area’s short-term rentals in 2017, and they needed a chance to prove their efficacy. The new proposal, effectively banning all rentals shorter than 28 days, would have affected about 70% of the city’s short term rental properties; in turn, the value of these homes would decrease significantly as a direct result of the ban, says Franklin.

“We belong to a strong coalition of stakeholders that opposed the proposed measure, including the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, and the mayor,” he continues. “Most of our partners were especially concerned about economic factors, but, as REALTORS®, we were in it to defend the right of property owners to rent their homes to whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, at whatever price they set.” Initial polling by the coalition predicted that the initiative would be defeated 60-to-40, but the stakes were high, and PSRAR wasn’t taking any chances.

The association had received REALTOR® Party Independent Expenditures to support candidates in the past, notes Franklin, but this marked the first time it had ever applied for an Issues Mobilization Grant. “The team at the REALTOR® Party was on board immediately: on the case, with a plan.”  Because 70% of the ballots in the Palm Springs primary were cast by mail, and were sent out to voters 30 days in advance of the election, PSRAR had to act fast. “Within about a week, the Campaign Services team had everything ready to go: three mailers targeting households most likely to vote in the primary, and online and social media advertising,” says Franklin. “All we had to do was work with them on the message, and review and approve the final ads. They did a great job, which meant that we could stay focused on ours.”

The 10% ‘skin-in-the-game’ portion required by the Issues Mobilization Grant program was shared between PSRAR and the California Desert Association of REALTORS®, its neighboring board. REALTORS® loved seeing where their PAC investment was going: right back into their community, reports Franklin, who adds, “If you’ve got an issue that needs strong and savvy support, you’d be foolish not to use this program.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Palm Springs are working to protect private property rights and local property values, contact Government Affairs Director Jim Franklin at 760-485-0858.

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Boise Regional REALTORS® Boost School District with Issues Mobilization Grant

In the fastest growing region of the fastest growing state in the nation, four out of five schools are well over student capacity, and all are looking at significant enrollment increases in the immediate future. The school district of West Ada County, Idaho, which receives funding for expansion and infrastructure improvement only through bond measures approved by a supermajority of voters, proposed such a bond in March: $95 million to build new schools, expand and improve others, and buy land for future school sites before property values rise much further. The Boise Regional REALTORS® (BRR) launched an energetic campaign to convince voters to approve the proposal.  It passed narrowly with about 1% margin of the vote.

According to BRR President Gary Salisbury, the need was urgent for the community, and therefore, the industry: “Keeping up with our region’s rapid growth is an important issue for our association. We are enjoying an era of great economic expansion, but we must take care to foster it so that young families and big companies will continue to be attracted here. The strain on our schools caused by the booming population is a situation that needed immediate attention and long-term vision; passing this bond was an important step in accommodating our clients’ needs and ensuring we have safe and state-of-the-art learning facilities.”

BRR was joined in the effort by local mayors, chambers of commerce, the school district itself, and several private businesses.  Soren Dorius, BRR’s Director of Government Affairs, says that the REALTOR® Party’s support of the campaign was invaluable.  As the bond issue was the only item on the ballot, it was largely a push to get-out-the-vote. “The required supermajority meant that for every ‘no’ vote, we needed two ‘yes-es’,” he explains. The Issues Mobilization Grant that BRR received helped to fund a persuasive “Get out the Vote” mail piece targeting thousands of households with a strong voting history, and live persuasion phone calls in the final weeks leading up to the vote. The local REALTORS®’ 10% match contribution was funded through their investments into the Corporate Ally Program, which allows for ‘soft money’ from affiliate members and others in the community to be used for issues campaigns.

BRR CEO Breanna Vanstrom recently spoke as a guest panelist at the 2018 Association Executive Institute, highlighting the importance of NAR’s resources in this bond campaign. “We greatly appreciate the financial commitment of our association members and industry partners, allowing us to tackle important issues related to sustainable growth,” she says.  “Their active investment in RPAC and the Corporate Ally Program enables us to demonstrate our ‘skin in the game,’ for critical grants from the REALTOR® Party.”

With the bond approved, construction is expected to begin on the new schools and additions later this year, and the future school sites are secured.  Looking ahead, BRR will be focused on other concerns of a growing population, such as improvements to transportation infrastructure, affordable work force housing, and Smart Growth. Meanwhile, things are looking up for the students and staff of the West Ada County school district, their communities, families shopping for housing in the area, and the REALTORS® who help them.

To learn more about how Boise Regional REALTORS® are using REALTOR® Party resources to help local school districts meet the demands of a growing student population, contact Soren Dorius, Director of Government Affairs, at 208-800-8823.

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Thanks to Alabama REALTORS®, First-time Homebuyers Can Now Save for Down Payments and Closing Costs

When the National Association of REALTORS® announced model legislation for First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account (FHSA) programs, Alabama REALTORS® was right there with them. Using resources from the REALTOR® Party, the association had a bill drafted, and commissioned polling and economic research to help convince legislators of its merit. On March 28, when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed that bill into law, Alabama joined seven other states in the nation offering this progressive tax benefit. Allowing $5,000 in tax-free annual savings ($10,000 for couples) in accounts designated for first-time down payments and closing costs, the law requires contributions and interest deductibles not exceeding $25,000 ($50,000 for couples) to be used within five years towards the purchase of a home.

“Homeownership is the foundation of strong families and healthy communities,” says Stacey Sanders, AAR’s Public Policy Committee Chair. “Alabama REALTORS® is wholeheartedly committed to preserving and enhancing homeownership as a fundamental component of the American Dream, and we know that the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts will incentivize people to stay and live here in Alabama, in homes that they own.”

Just over a month before the 2018 legislative session began in January, AAR sought polling from the REALTOR® Party using an Issues Mobilization Grant. The results were clear: 90% of Alabamians believe that buying a home is a good financial decision; 79% of Alabama voters see the down payment as the biggest obstacle to buying a home; and 77% of Alabama voters favor the FHSA program. The economic research conducted by NAR showed that an estimated 590 to 3,675 eligible households would use an FHSA, which would result in a positive net economic impact on the state ranging from $2.4 million to $26.8 million in annual economic activity, including the creation of up to 245 jobs in numerous sectors of the economy affected by homeownership. These numbers shaped the talking points that AAR brought to the State House to persuade legislators to support the bill, which had been drafted, and was sponsored by State Representative Kyle South in the House and Senator Greg Reed in the Senate.

AAR created a website resource for the proposed First-time and Second-chance Homebuyer Savings Account program, but the polling and economic data were so strong that there was no need for the association to activate the rest of its planned campaign to drum up public support.

Jeremy Walker, AAR CEO said, “Legislators in both chambers were supportive of the concept of helping a new generation of first-time buyers overcome obstacles such as student loans and create a path to responsible homeownership. We were able to work through concerns raised and reach a final bill with great consensus on the positive impact it will make in Alabama.”

With the legislation enacted and due to go into effect in January 2019, AAR is planning to develop a consumer campaign to increase public awareness of the new benefit, which also includes a “Second Chance” provision for would-be buyers who have not owned a home in the past ten years. It is planning to create marketing packages that will be available to brokerages and local REALTOR® Associations to share with members and clients across the state. “We’ve had an overwhelming positive response from our members, who are excited about the program and bringing new opportunities to help first-time buyers,” says Walker, adding, “We definitely recommend taking advantage of REALTOR® Party resources to pursue this kind of legislation.”

A five-year sunset provision in the final legislation means that the benefit will have to be renewed down the road, but AAR is optimistic that the success of the Alabama FHSA program will speak for itself by that point, and that legislators will continue to see the advantages it brings to the state and its residents.

To learn more about how Alabama REALTORS® is helping to ease the way for first-time homebuyers, bolster the housing market, and strengthen the state economy, contact Emily Marsh, Political Representative, at 334-386-5345.

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