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REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grants

Greater Boston Board Works toward Zoning Reform

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) may technically be a local association, but as it serves the capital city, what it does at City Hall often sets precedent for the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For the past few decades, in partnership with the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, GBREB has been wrestling with the complicated and often thorny issue of zoning, with a goal of removing barriers to housing production and economic development. With them all the way was NAR consultant Robinson & Cole, LLC, the law firm retained to provide expert analysis of land-use proposals.

Patricia Baumer, GBREB Director of Government Affairs, explains the tremendous value that this Land Use Initiative brings to her board’s efforts to reform the antiquated zoning act governing the region. “It’s a difficult issue to begin with, made more so by the fact that it’s largely a matter of case law, at this point. There’s a lot of apprehension in the REALTOR® community about opening it up to change, as that could invite considerable political risk,” she observes. “But developers require predictability when it comes to zoning. So, it’s a delicate issue, and we’re very lucky to have NAR’s team of consultants navigating the necessary reforms with us, step-by-step. They’re nationally respected, smart, responsive and very hard-working; over the years, I’ve known them to work late to get us answers, and more than once, they’ve held our hands through tough negotiations in the State House. Hands-down, they are the single most indispensable tool in our toolbox.”

Last session, with Robinson & Cole facilitating, a joint GBREB/Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® working group dlooked at how existing zoning regulations contribute to the housing crisis by impeding the production of the quantity and variety of housing types; it became an omnibus bill sponsored in January 2015 by State Senator Michael Rodrigues, a REALTOR® Champion from the Boston suburb of Westport. From allowing multifamily housing construction by right and promoting smart growth with cluster development to reducing red tape on existing permits and reducing costs and permit denials by applying established federal law, the bill sought to dissolve obstacles to the development of much-needed housing stock, the lack of which hinders economic development in the region. While portions of the HOME bill were incorporated into an omnibus bill in the Senate, REALTORS® opposed the final version that came up for a vote, because of some other, highly objectionable, sections of the bill.  “On balance, it would have done more harm than good,” says Baumer.

“We are so grateful that the National Association of REALTORS® understands that this is such a complicated, nuanced issue, and one that we’re not going to resolve overnight,” says Baumer. The fact that they provide this invaluable resource, and that they stick with us with this continued support, will make the difference between Massachusetts achieving zoning reform or not.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of the Greater Boston Area are using the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative to address barriers to housing production across the Massachusetts, contact Patricia Baumer, GBREB Director of Government Affairs, at (617) 423-8700.

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Partnership Spurs Diversity for the Grosse Pointe REALTORS®

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a high school in the affluent, nearly all-white Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. At the anniversary event this March memorializing King’s “The Other America” speech, the Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® (GPBR) will be among many in the community marking Grosse Pointe’s progress toward diversification and social equality. It will also be a time to provide thinking about what remains to be done.

According to Bob Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the almost 1,000-member board, this is not an interest that gets dusted off for special occasions, just as Fair Housing is not something that the board saves for the month of April. “Promoting diversity and equal opportunity is a mindset. We’ve internalized it, so that it impacts all our decisions and  thinking,” he says.  He credits an exceptionally engaged and focused Fair Housing & Diversity Committee, led for four years by Ursel Mayo, with bringing about this change.  Supported by a Board of Directors led this year by Lori Jaglois and last year by Mario Como, Fair Housing & Diversity are part of the board’s daily consciousness.

“We wanted to have constructive conversation, provide insight, and eliminate ‘if we’re talking about Fair Housing it must be April’ thinking,” explains Jaglois. “Consequently, we no longer have ‘Fair Housing Month’ recognition. Instead, there’s a dedicated “Fair Housing” component at each of our four yearly membership meetings.” GPBR offers the NAR’s “At Home With Diversity” certification class annually, in the past using REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grants to keep the cost down. Jaglois is proud to note that attendance is always robust: the last class, taught by Mayo, had upwards of 40 participants. Twice in the last four years, GPBR also offered the REALTOR® Party’s “Leading With Diversity” program. Most recently, the Detroit Association of REALTORS® was a co-host, with Fred Underwood from the National Association of REALTORS® and Dr. Agustin V. Arbulu, the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, co- presenting.

A new GPBR initiative called “All in for Diversity” available to members for a small contribution, allows those who want to bolster funding specifically for diversity projects to do so. In 2017, the board partnered with the Grosse Pointe Public School System to produce a calendar celebrating diversity as seen through the eyes of the community’s K-12 school children. The project generated more than sixty submissions, thirteen of which the GPBR jury selected to feature on the handsomely produced calendar. It was offered for sale to the membership and to families in the school system, with all proceeds going to the schools for further diversity efforts.

Rebecca Fannon, a representative of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, can’t say enough about the REALTORS®‘ involvement in strengthening the community: “The Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® has been an amazing partner with the school system over the years, promoting the area with community open houses, and assisting in projects coordinated by the local Chamber of Commerce. The Diversity Calendar project took this partnership one step further. Our school system was honored to participate, and so grateful that the proceeds from the calendar sales were donated to continued implementation of the district’s diversity initiatives outlined in our Strategic Plan.”

GPBR has close ties with the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, and plans to begin working with them, and other diversity groups in the area, to strengthen efforts that support diversity and inclusion. “If we can share resources like Placemaking Grants and Housing Opportunity training with groups that share our interests, then that moves everybody forward,” says Taylor.

In 2017, Ursel Mayo, a long time member of the GPBR’s Board of Directors, was selected to be President-elect for 2018, the first African American to hold that position.  Is that because the Board wanted a person of color at the forefront?  “I don’t believe color had anything to do with the decision” says Taylor.  “The Board of Directors felt she was the very best person for the job, and she happens to be African-American.” Our goal is to seek those who are most passionate about serving our members, and encourage them to be in leadership.  President Jaglois, herself a tremendous leader, urged Ursel to consider the role.  We are extremely fortunate to have this kind of thoughtful and focused leadership.  It’s the reason this board is making a difference in Grosse Pointe — and beyond.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Grosse Pointe, Michigan are taking a leadership role in promoting diversity in their community, contact Chief Executive Officer Bob Taylor, at 313-882-8000 x3.

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