help@borntogive.com

July 2018

Sun Valley Board Help Veterans with a Housing Opportunity Grant

 Sun Valley, Idaho has a population of about 21,000. According to the latest census information, that includes roughly 1,500 military veterans, nearly all of whom live below the poverty line. Through the REALTORS® for Veterans program, Sun Valley REALTORS® are providing assistance ranging from finding housing and rent relief to repairs, alterations, and maintenance. A REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant is helping them reach those who need them most.

Amanda Ornelas is Executive Officer of the 320-member Sun Valley Board. She explains that the small mountain community has a high cost of living, and although there’s an Air Force base about two hours away and a training ground for Navy Seals nearby, no real veterans’ services operate in the area. The pride that comes with having served in the armed forces makes it hard for many veterans to seek help, she notes: “Again and again, we hear about individuals who are struggling with housing, but unwilling to admit it. We know there are veterans living quietly, less visibly – camping, even – who need a leg up. If anyone’s going to do something about their housing needs, it’s going to be the REALTORS®.”

The Sun Valley Board has its own charitable foundation, Sun Valley REALTORS® Give, and in 2016 it established the REALTORS® for Veterans program, which it first funded through a 5K race. This year, the board registered the program with the annual IDAHO Gives Day, a statewide online fundraiser for non-profits, which brought in more than $16,000. “Far more income for far less effort than organizing a 5K!” laughs Ornelas. The REALTORS® for Veterans fund was set to provide assistance with rent and deposits, and also supported an annual Repair Fair to help with maintenance, clean-up, safety features, and wildfire abatement. The difficulty was in finding candidates who would come forward and ask for help.

So, the REALTORS® applied for a Housing Opportunity Grant to have a professional marketing firm produce and distribute a video about the program. A young couple who’d struggled for years living in a camper agreed to share their story about how the REALTORS® for Veterans program had helped them to stabilize their family, consolidate debts, and eventually buy a home with a VA loan. A short version of the video was also created, airing as a public service announcement on local cable channels and on social media. “This video has been a huge help for us,” states Ornelas. “We are not swamped with applications, but we’re getting leads and identifying those who need us. That is the goal.” Once the half-page application is submitted, it is reviewed by a panel of REALTORS® who are also veterans; the applicants are more comfortable talking with fellow vets, who in turn have the sensitivity and understanding that only those who have served can bring to the table.

The third annual Repair Fair recently helped a 93-year old WWII veteran and his wife to live in increased comfort and safety in their home, with tree services and contractor services donated by community members, as well as lots of elbow-grease from REALTOR® volunteers. Thanks to the video, the Sun Valley Board is exploring partnerships with like-minded organizations that have come forward eager to help veterans own their homes, and even build them, in light of the local housing shortage, says Ornelas.

“The Housing Opportunity Grant has helped us to change lives,” says Ornelas. “The awareness it’s created will have an ongoing impact, connecting us with neighbors who need the kind of assistance we’re equipped to give. We’re so grateful that the REALTOR® Party has made that possible.”

To learn more about how the Sun Valley Board of REALTORS® is helping its local veterans to secure and maintain housing, contact Amanda Ornelas, Executive Officer, at 208-726-7764.

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Maine Association Facilitates Smart Growth for Once-thriving Mill Town

The Stenton Mill

The state of Maine has the nation’s oldest population, the eighth oldest housing stock, low median income, and essentially no public transportation infrastructure. At the same time, the vacant and unused manufacturing spaces in once-thriving mill communities all across the state offer an opportunity for revitalization through mixed-use development of their downtown centers. To help the once-prosperous mill town of Sanford envision a future with walkable affordable housing and fresh economic contributors, the Maine Association of REALTORS® received a Smart Growth Action Grant to support a three-day charrette, or stakeholder-informed design session.

Trish Ohler, a Program Manager at the 5,000-member Maine Association of REALTORS® (MAR), explains that “MAR prides itself on longstanding advocacy for the value of housing choice and opportunity as essential components in a thriving economy. It also continually strives to create smarter alternatives to urban sprawl.” The region is fortunate to have a non-profit called the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast (WHC) whose work in Sanford was supported by the REALTOR® Party grant. In this case, the municipality had already done a lot of advance leg work: redefining its zoning code, creating a Recreation Master Plan, and hiring a staff member focused on housing. By the time the WHC facilitated the design charrette in Sanford, says Ohler, “the event was a springboard for lots of good ideas that had already been percolating for a while.”

On the first day, participants went on a site walk of the mill complex, and submitted ideas, as well as perceived obstacles to development. The second day saw the professional team of architects and planners organizing and analyzing the community input, from which they created two plans, accompanied by a feasibility document, revealed at the end of the third day. About ten REALTORS® participated in the process, along with dozens of other local stakeholders.

The Lofts at Stenton Mill Design Concept presented during the The Stenton Mill Area Revitalization Workshop: A Workforce Housing Coalition Design Charrette

Greg Gosselin, 2017 MAR President and a current member of NAR’s Housing Opportunities Committee, has been involved in infill development projects in several Maine towns in the past few years; he was on the committee that selected the old mill site as the focus of the Sanford charrette. “The work of the Workforce Housing Coalition is changing communities by providing a vision derived from community input. As REALTORS®, our involvement can help insure that future development includes both market rate and middle market housing.”

Rebecca Lapierre, a REALTOR® living and working in Sanford, and a committee member for the local charrette, agrees. “As a REALTOR®, I was able to advise on the type of housing that would work best for the mill area,” she says. “My professional expertise will have a real impact on this development, which will in turn have an impact on the future of Sanford.”

Since the charrette, the development in Sanford has been progressing swiftly, reports Ohler, with additional funding secured for Brownfield abatement, new interest in the former mill structures, and one being prepped for development, with plans for intown residential units and retail units underway. The civic leaders of Sanford have expressed their gratitude to the REALTORS® for their leadership and support. “This project was a great opportunity to bring REALTOR® knowledge and expertise into the community housing, planning, and development process,” says Ohler, “and the NAR Smart Growth funding was key to this collaboration.”

To learn more about how the Maine Association of REALTORS® is using its leadership, energy, and the resources of the REALTOR® Party to promote downtown revitalization and workforce housing, contact Trish Ohler at or 207-622-7501. See the final report on the Stenton Mill Revitalization Charrette.

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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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