north carolina

North Carolina REALTORS®’ Advocacy Spurs New Legislation for Small Business and Association Health Care Coverage

North Carolina REALTORS® knew that finding adequate and affordable health insurance was a challenge for the state’s small businesses, associations, and independent contractors. But when polling revealed that as many as 6,000 of its members were not covered, the REALTORS® took swift and certain action. With help from the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program, they led an aggressive campaign that brought about the passage of an Association Health Plan bill in August 2019.

The REALTORS® had only been actively involved in the health care coverage issue for about two years, explains Seth Palmer, North Carolina REALTORS®’ Director of Regulatory Affairs and External Communications. Across the state, he says, they were hearing about the increasing difficulty of paying for health insurance, coupled with the worsening quality of that coverage. “Members were dropping coverage or forgoing other important expenses to cover insurance,” he notes. Forming a coalition with 19 other membership associations spanning multiple industries, the REALTOR® team began work on a comprehensive plan that would ultimately become Senate Bill 86, which allows for small business and associations to have access to the same type of coverage as large employers. It was a preliminary membership survey that lit a fire under the effort: “As a membership association, 6,000 REALTORS® without health coverage was a hard number to see, and that is what emboldened our advocacy work,” says Palmer.

The Association Health Plan campaign began at an intensive one-on-one level, as North Carolina REALTORS®’ State Political Coordinators engaged their contacts in the legislature on the importance of the issue. Print ads and op-ed pieces in the state’s two largest newspapers raised awareness among the general public, with the added support of an active social media campaign.  In August, the Senate bill passed handily, and the House companion bill followed suit, both with strong bipartisan support. The REALTORS® reserved their call for action power for a strategic push after the bills’ passage: the hyper-sensitive, single point-of-contact call for action fueled by the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program directed messages from more than 7,045 unique individuals to Governor Cooper, urging him to sign the bill in to law. Neither formalizing the legislation with his signature, nor vetoing it, he allowed the Small Business Health Care Act to become law after a mandated ten-day period.

Asa Fleming, the president of North Carolina REALTORS®, thanked General Assembly members and the governor for allowing the bill to become law.

“Through this action, small businesses and independent contractors will now have an option for quality, affordable health insurance through Association Health Plans. This bipartisan legislation focuses on ensuring that hard-working citizens throughout our state are not allowed to fall into a gap which can’t be addressed in other programs,” he said, adding, “We look forward to working with our members to develop plans which address their needs and help provide coverage for the more than 6,000 who are uninsured and many more who are underinsured.”

Palmer notes that North Carolina REALTORS® is deeply appreciative of the help and support it received from the REALTOR® Party. “The response to our call for action just blew away the Government Affairs staff. It exceeded any of our projections, and clearly gave the governor an understanding of the seriousness of the challenges our members and other small businesses are facing when it comes to health care.” He also reports that, coming out of North Carolina REALTORS®’ recent Annual Conference, “Everyone is very excited about what we’ve accomplished, and eager to move forward and get the ball rolling!”

To learn more about how North Carolina REALTORS® is looking out for the well-being of its members and other small businesses across the state, contact Seth Palmer, Director of Regulatory Affairs and External Communications, at 919-573-0992.

Read more

Charlotte REALTORS®Dive Deep into Regional State of Housing

Every day, an estimated 60 to 70 people move to Charlotte, North Carolina. Nice as it is to be popular, the city is learning that unless it plans accordingly, the fast-paced growth resulting from its desirability will present some real challenges moving forward. To get a handle on the current status of housing in the region, community leaders and local elected officials turned to the REALTORS® for help.

“We’re fortunate in having an excellent resource in the real estate department at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte,” says Terri Marshall, Executive Director of the Housing Opportunity Foundation associated with the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association (CRRA). In 2017, CRRA’s leadership approached the university’s Childress Klein Center for Real Estate and asked if it would undertake a five-year study of the state of housing in the greater Charlotte region. The initial report, released in February 2019 and clocking in at more than 80 pages, provides a valuable benchmark analysis of the city and eight surrounding counties. In addition to funding from a REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant, CRRA contributed eight-counties’ worth of MLS data to the project – and will continue to do so for another five years. The overriding finding, says Marshall, is that “We’re just not delivering enough housing, and the supply crunch is driving prices up steadily, at all levels of owner-occupied and rental housing.”

Joe Padilla, CRRA’s Government Affairs Director who worked closely with Marshall on the effort, explains that because affordable housing concerns are not limited to the city of Charlotte itself, it was important to take the outlying counties into account: “As the report states up front, no analysis of the Charlotte market would be complete without understanding its suburban markets. We share a responsibility to develop ample affordable housing for the growing population. If a county’s not allowing homes to be constructed at price points that are accessible to buyers at all income levels, it’s going to face difficulties down the road,” he notes, adding, “The report is generally positive, but it’s a wake-up call for all of us, as well as a road map.”

In committing five years’ support to the study, the REALTORS® were joined by a strong coalition of partners including the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Piedmont Public Policy Institute, the Charlotte Housing Authority, and numerous other industry leaders. The initial study was rolled out at the Summit on the State of Housing in Charlotte in February, an event that drew more than 300 participants – with more on a waiting list. “UNC is a research organization, and the study is the presentation of its findings, not a policy paper,” says Marshall. She adds, “But the Childress Klein Center did a phenomenal job of putting two panels together for the summit, and that was where stakeholders and city leaders began to talk policy. It brought about the most unifying discussions I’ve encountered in a very long time. Our involvement in the process has positioned the REALTORS® to be, more than ever, the voice of housing in Charlotte.”

“This has filled a real need,” agrees Padilla. “As our community leaders are planning and looking ahead, they can refer to this benchmark report and say, ‘What does the UNC study say?’” He notes that the effort complements Charlotte’s pro-active and responsible stance towards its housing challenges: a major affordable housing bond was recently approved on the ballot in Charlotte, and each year as the successive UNC studies are released, annual roll-out summits will focus on policies, solutions, and next-steps. For his part, he is hoping to expand the study’s impact by bringing some of the UNC study’s authors out in to the surrounding counties to meet with local chambers of commerce, REALTORS®, and homebuilder associations. “It would be great to sit down together and focus on the data specific to each county. The analysis has been done; now it’s time to share in a meaningful and productive way!”

View the complete report online.

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Charlotte are working to address the affordable housing crisis in their region, contact Terri Marshall, Executive Director of the Housing Opportunity Foundation of the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association, at 704-940-3148; or Joe Padilla, its Government Affairs Director, at 704-940-3174.

 

Read more

Greensboro REALTORS® Tackle Additions to City Zoning Code

“No one wants unsafe housing,” asserts Nick Scarci, Government Affairs Director of the Greensboro Regional REALTORS® Association (GRRA), “but city code must be reasonably fair to landlords.” This sums up the stance of the local REALTORS® in a legislative whirlwind that began in late September, when a newspaper article revealed that the City Council was considering three significant additions to the municipality’s existing code. The alterations were well-intentioned, proposed in response to a devastating apartment fire in the spring, but their full implications for property owners were not well considered. Although updated code eventually passed, its provisions were informed and tempered by a thorough analysis that the GRRA commissioned through the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative (LUI) program.

Scarci, who was aware of the LUI program but had never had to use it, got hold of the bill with just enough time to submit it for review and have the proposed legislation and code analyzed.

The first new provision would allow city inspectors to inspect an entire apartment building based on issues found in one unit; the second would create a ‘worst offenders’ list citing the top 10% of properties with the most code violations and police incidents within the city; and the third would allow for the designation of a square-mile ‘blighted area,’ within which the city could inspect every property. It was this last proposal that the REALTORS® found especially troubling, in that the homes of responsible owners would be caught in such ‘blighted areas,’ devaluing and stigmatizing their property.

Says Scarci, “The Land Use Initiative review is an excellent tool for someone like me, who does not have a strong legal background to grapple with potentially complex issues. Consultants turned the analysis around even faster than we expected; I received a call from them the day after I submitted our documents.  It was timely and constructive.”

The REALTORS® received the legal analysis about a week prior to the vote by the City Council, reports Scarci, and he was able to communicate the feedback to key council members through back channels. Monitoring the proposals online, he could see that, prior to the vote, the language was updated a number of times for the better, and the final provision was actually struck entirely. “It was very apparent that the Council hadn’t understood the full significance of the bill they were considering,” he says, acknowledging that the legislators were under pressure to take strong political action in the aftermath of the apartment fire, and felt obligated to take extreme measures into consideration.

Although the updated proposal passed, the concerns raised by GRRA convinced the city to meet soon after with a delegation of Greensboro REALTORS®, their Association Executive, Mike Barr, and their Government Affairs Chair, Wayne Young, together with representatives from the Greensboro Landlord Association, to revisit the newly adopted code provisions. Staff from North Carolina REALTORS®, especially Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Cady Thomas, also provided valuable input regarding relevant state code, notes Scarci, adding, “We’re very fortunate in having a diverse and talented membership and leadership providing insightful feedback on the new code. Between their expertise and the analysis provided by the REALTOR® Party, I think that in the future, the city will see us as a valuable resource when it’s looking to make rational updates to the existing code.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Greensboro, North Carolina are working to craft local zoning code that is both safe and fair, contact Government Affairs Director Nick Scarci at 336-808-4234.

Read more

Haywood REALTORS® Supports Smart Growth and Affordable Housing in Waynesville, NC

In some respects, the western North Carolina Town of Waynesville doesn’t have much choice but to embrace Smart Growth: bounded by the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as a flood plain, sprawl isn’t necessarily an option. Still, as it updates the regulatory twenty-year Comprehensive Land Use Plan that serves as its critical ‘road map’ for future land use and zoning decisions, Waynesville needed as much public input as possible as it tackles issues from insufficient affordable housing to the contemporary appeal of living close to the business core. With a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant, the Haywood REALTOR® Association sponsored a Visioning Workshop on a weekday afternoon in June, to gather ideas and opinions from local stakeholders.

Lisa Brown, Association Executive of the 280-member board, says that when her Government Affairs Co-Chair, Ellen Sither, approached her with the idea of using a REALTOR® Party grant to fund the event, “My first thought was ‘Yay!’…. And then, as a staff of one, I thought, ‘Oh Lord.  How am I going to do this?’ It was our first major grant application, and had I known it would be as easy as it was, we would have started long ago!” She gives credit for the heavy lifting to Sither and Elizabeth Teague, the Town of Waynesville Development Services Director, who put together the application; they, in turn, note that the team at the National Association of REALTORS® was helpful and responsive every step of the way.

The Visioning Workshop, which was held in the town’s Recreation Center, met a critical need for the planning process, says Teague. “With our consultants, we had accomplished a lot of technical work, but what was missing was public input. And while the town has a reasonable budget, we certainly couldn’t have held such an event without the REALTORS®. They provided food, and marketing, and worked side-by-side with the professional consultants. It was wonderful!” The event drew just shy of 400 participants, and generated valuable responses and ideas for the steering committee. Through the workshops, local support was affirmed for exploring redevelopment opportunities for older properties, for smaller area planning, and for maximizing density through infill; it was also made abundantly clear that Waynesville residents don’t want development to spread up their beloved mountainsides. Over the course of the day, notes Sither about 25 REALTORS® donated their time to the event, participating in a morning training session, then helping to bring in lunch for the team, and working in sessions with members of the public from 3-7pm. “For some, it meant closing a one-person office for the day. It was a lot to give!”

Although the Visioning Workshop was deliberately planned to coincide with pick-up time from the Recreation Center day camp, it didn’t attract as many young people as the planners had hoped. “We had more higher-income retirees than younger residents providing input,” remarks Sither, “but still, every bit was useful as we considered the big picture.” Brown and Teague are also members of the Haywood County Affordable Housing Council, which focuses on making it possible for younger generations to return to live in the rural community. “This is a key issue for the well-being of the town,” says Brown, “and it dovetails neatly with the visioning process for the Comprehensive Plan. So, while the younger folks may not have been directly represented – and, of course, they’re busy! – there were others of us advocating for the housing needs of their generation and beyond.”

Teague expresses the town’s great appreciation for the leadership of the REALTORS®, not just in sponsoring the Visioning Workshop, but in volunteering their time and expertise to the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and in communicating the town’s efforts to a larger audience. “We’ve created a truly productive partnership, which is not always the case between towns and the real estate industry. As we go forward, we know it’s critical for the REALTORS® to be our partners in Smart Growth planning: together, we can protect the town and create growth.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Haywood County, North Carolina, are helping the Town of Waynesville plan for future land use and zoning decisions with an eye to Smart Growth and affordable housing, contact Lisa M. Brown, Association Executive, at 828-452-5096; Government Affairs Co-Chair Ellen Sither, at 828-452-5809; or Elizabeth Teague, Development Services Director for the Town of Waynesville, at 828-476-9645.

 

Read more

With Better Block Event, Longleaf Pine REALTORS® Demonstrate Just How Pedestrian-Friendly Haymount Can Be

The Haymount district of Fayetteville, North Carolina is blessed with neat neighborhoods of cottage-style homes and proximity to downtown. Its vibrant commercial district is currently cursed, however, by an environment hostile to pedestrian traffic.  Armed with a vision, a Smart Growth Action Grant, and a whole lot of duct tape, the local Longleaf Pine REALTORS® (LPR) set out to change that.

Partnering with the North Carolina chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, the Haymount business community, and other local organizations, the 1,600-member association mounted a Better Block Event on a weekend in March to reveal how basic improvements such as bike lanes, crosswalks, reduced traffic lanes, and widened sidewalks could transform the area for the better.

“It was beyond great,” says LPR Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth, of the half-day event that drew more than 3,000 visitors and earned a commitment from the City Council to allocate funding for pedestrian safety measures. It was a city staff member who first approached the REALTORS® about the possibility of securing a Smart Growth Action Grant for a Better Block Event, says Hedgepeth. She, in turn, worked on the project with a county transportation planner and a committee of about 70 REALTORS®.

Using its community relationships, ingenuity, and only slightly more money than the $5,000 grant, LPR effectively transformed a central block of Haymount that had already been the site of one pedestrian fatality. “Beyond the immediate issue of pedestrian safety,” says Hedgepeth, “this effort should benefit property values, business activity, and community connectedness, and could set a positive precedent for the entire region.”

For all its potential, the project came with a steep learning curve: the permits alone, from the North Carolina Department of Treansportation as well as the city of Fayetteville, took months to secure. Then, there was insurance for the event, and a stage to rent, musicians to hire, vendors and artists and food trucks to arrange, and dozens and dozens of orange traffic cones. There was a website to create, and a big publicity campaign, and video coverage involving overhead drones.  Hedgepeth and her team experimented with various temporary crosswalk application methods after-hours in the LPR parking lot.  Two local nurseries and a landscaping company contributed a row of mature potted trees, several park benches, and additional greenery.  The night before the event, the REALTORS® pre-marked the roads.  At 8 a.m., day-of, they were out stenciling bike-lane markers and applying eight critical crosswalks with architectural drafting paper and duct tape.

Despite the significant alteration of the traffic access, Hedgepeth reports, “there was no honking of horns, no screaming; drivers were just easing down the road, giving all the pedestrian activity the time and space it needed.  It was wonderful, and a big relief, because of course, we had no idea what to expect.”

Local youngsters circulating through the event collected surveys from more than 300 attendees, which have been complied in a report for the City Council. At the end of the day, the REALTORS® interviewed all the businesses in the Better Block zone; all were excited, and one, a new coffee shop, was thrilled to report doing triple its usual trade that day, says Hedgepeth. “People came to our tent and said, ‘Please, can you help make this happen for real?’ and ‘How can we help get this done?!’”

The REALTORS® are on it. The City Councilman representing Haymount has assured them that he’ll find funding for at least the painting of the new crosswalks in the next budget cycle, as a start. Communities beyond Haymount stand to benefit from all the effort, too: an official from a nearby city called the REALTORS® directly, after she’d seen reports in the media, to ask how they’d done it. “It’ll be a while before we’re ready to do something like this again,” laughs Hedgepeth, “but we’re happy to share our new expertise! In so many ways, the grant from NAR is being leveraged in to far greater gains.”

To learn more about how the Longleaf Pine REALTORS® are working to make the communities of Fayetteville, North Carolina,more desirable, livable, workable, and walkable, contact Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth at 910-323-1421.  To visit the event website, see https://www.betterblockfaync.com/home.

Read more

Gaston (NC) REALTORS®: Small Association Thinks Big in Putting Housing Opportunity Grant to Work

When the economy crashed in Gaston County, NC, it crashed hard. Unemployment grew and the housing market suffered.  As conditions began to improve last year, the 270-member Gaston  Association of REALTORS® decided to help the public understand the opportunities to be had in their recovering market by hosting a housing fair in the town’s brand new convention center. With the help of a $5,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from NAR, they drew nearly 500 people to the April event.  Attendees visited booths of industry professionals ranging from lenders and home inspectors to landscapers and cabinet refinishers. The fair was such a hit that plans are already underway to host another one next year.

Read more