help@borntogive.com

Success-Stories

Mississippi REALTORS® Maximize Returns with RPAC Fundraising Grant

In 2019, RPAC celebrates 50 years of supporting REALTOR® issues. This past February, Mississippi REALTORS® demonstrated impressive support for RPAC: at a festive annual event that coincides with its Winter Meetings, the 6,500-member state association parlayed a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant, matched by funds of its own, into more than $83,000 of RPAC investments.

“Mississippi is a very giving state,” says Beth Hansen, the organization’s CEO. “For a state association, we may be small, but we have a really strong culture of MARPAC success,” she adds. That’s a considerable understatement: in fact, Mississippi has been awarded the REALTOR® Party President’s Cup in six of the past seven years.

This was the eighth consecutive year that the association has hosted a ‘MARPAC Drawdown’ event following a day of committee meetings and preceding its big annual REALTOR® Day at the state capitol. Hansen is careful to note that while ‘drawdowns’ are a very popular fundraising device in Mississippi, they may not be permissible in other states. A month before the event, members began snapping up $100 tickets, plus $25 ‘second-chance’ tickets for the drawdown, which promised a winning pot of $5,000. They also purchased $25 token packs to vote for their favorite acts in the lip sync contest. Not only did the event surpass its goal by more than $11,000, it attracted sixteen new Major Investors at the $1,000 level; substantial investment increases by 19 other members; and numerous first-time investors to Mississippi’s RPAC family.

This is the second year that a REALTOR® Party grant supported the rental of a large event venue, and a separate admission fee offset the cost of the catered dinner. “It’s grown every year,” says Hansen, “and our members really look forward to it.” As about 150 REALTORS® dined and caught up with colleagues from across the state, they were entertained by a spirited Lip Sync Throwdown – dominated by the Northwest Mississippi Association of REALTORS® for the second year in a row. All in good fun, the lively musical numbers are interspersed with dramatic moments in the suspenseful drawdown, which eventually brings five final ticket-holders to the fore; the finalists are given the chance to split the prize or continue with the drawdown. Hansen reports that the final five ticket holders typically opt to share the pot, leaving everyone feeling good about a win-win conclusion.

  • Table décor from the Drawdown

 

The fun and games of investing in RPAC gave way to more serious business the next day at the Capitol, when members heard from the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and Secretary of State, and met with their legislators about the current legislative agenda as it regards real estate and private property issues, explains Hansen. At the Political Advocacy Luncheon that followed at the state REALTOR® headquarters, Mississippi REALTORS® President Adam Watkins moderated a discussion of the 2019 statewide election forecast with the Chairmen of both the Mississippi Republican Party and the Mississippi Democratic Party. “Our members understand the importance of political advocacy, and how it affects not just the industry, but the communities they inhabit and serve. We’re proud to be acknowledging the 50th anniversary of RPAC at every meeting and in all our branding,” she continues, “It’s an important reminder of all RPAC has done for us, and why we continue to invest.”

To learn more about how the Mississippi REALTORS® are engaging in political advocacy and raising the bar for RPAC investment, contact CEO Beth Hansen at 601-932-5241.

 

Read more

Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association Keeps Redundant, Burdensome Zoning at Bay

In the last three years, more than 45 municipalities across Florida have modified their vacation rental ordinances to be more restrictive. In Cape Coral, a seasonal residence for many homeowners, REALTORS® aided by a Land Use Initiative led a successful charge to keep additional restrictions off the books.

The rush to update ordinances covering vacation rental issues is explained by Chris Lopez, Public Policy Director of the 7,300-member Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association, which serves two counties along the Gulf Coast:  “It became evident several years ago that there was a big gap in ordinances dealing with the technology that brought us all the on-line booking platforms. The instinct seems to be to create a whole raft of new ordinances addressing the perceived ‘threat,’ rather than investigating the suitability of what already exists in local code. City Councils also reflexively jump on the ‘gap’ as a funding opportunity, where they could impose registration fees, fines for violations, and collect business and rental taxes on these properties. Our goal has been to minimize this excessive government involvement.”

Faced with a proposed new set of such ordinances, the Royal Palm Coast REALTORS® applied for a Land Use Initiative review by NAR consultants. “It’s always my first step, in cases like this,” says Lopez, noting that, “if we can use this legal expertise in early conversations with city leaders, we may be able to head-off expensive efforts for both sides down the road. Having the national and state framework that NAR consultants provided was extremely persuasive in these meetings, and in workshop settings when we seek to re-draft legislation, and in support of our testimony during public hearings. It’s a powerful ace-up-the-sleeve.”

The REALTORS®’ strongest objection to the Cape Coral proposal was that most of the concerns it attempted to address were already covered by existing city ordinances. “We have regulations regarding noise. We have rules about parking, and trash collection, and property upkeep. All these issues can be effectively managed with a call to the police. There is simply no need to duplicate the legislation by adding a redundant layer just for vacation homes.” Beyond that, the economic burden that the new rules would impose on affected property owners and businesses could be onerous. After a good faith effort at workshopping the proposed Cape Coral ordinance with city staff and a like-minded coalition of organizations, including Airbnb and the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the REALTORS® found that they still could not support the resulting compromise language.

At that point, reports Lopez, they mobilized REALTOR® members and the general public with a mailing. “At the second public hearing on the ordinance, we filled the room with business people, REALTORS®, and homeowners, many of whom voiced their fears that these overly restrictive measures would affect their ability to live and do business in Cape Coral.”  There was no one to speak in favor of the proposed ordinance, and the City Council was forced to concede that the protections in place were adequate, if no one wanted them changed. “It was a pretty great victory,” admits Lopez: “going in to the hearing, the outcome was a toss-up. After our people had their say, all seven Council members and the Mayor had come around to our way of thinking.”

“I can’t speak highly enough about the service that Robinson & Cole provides,” he adds. “These collective resources of the REALTOR® Party that can be called into play when high stakes are on the table are so important, and form a critical part of our ongoing advocacy. We keep a constant eye on local municipal agendas, and work hard at maintaining strong relationships with our civic leaders, so we’re able to be fully engaged and keep finding good solutions for our communities.

To learn more about how the Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association is keeping a vigilant eye on short-term rental ordinances and other legislation of concern to Southwest Florida property owners, contact Public Policy Director Chris Lopez at 239-936-3537.

Read more

Bay East REALTORS® Mobilize on Short Notice to Fight Just-Cause Evictions

California’s Bay East Association of REALTORS® had numerous reasons to oppose the city of Hayward’s proposed just-cause eviction ordinance, but less than a week to get an opposition campaign underway. Although the emergency legislation passed, support from the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program helped raise awareness of the serious downsides of the ordinance and put City Hall on notice that REALTORS® are paying attention to all the housing and property rights policies coming to the table.

David Stark, Public Affairs Director of the 5,800-member association, explains that its philosophical stance on just-cause eviction stems from its belief that property owners should be able to do what they want with their property – including ending a lease. He notes that the members of the Hayward City Council had been under intense pressure from tenants-rights advocates, but, as he points out, the outcome has been short-sighted and detrimental to an already fraught housing situation. “Hayward is not far from Silicon Valley, and has a robust economy of its own, so the demand for housing is huge and spans a broad demographic — from tech executives to college students. Unfortunately, the city has a history of inhibiting development, and hasn’t adequately planned for the housing needs of its growing population. That failure to plan has created a crisis.”

“As a practical matter,” he continues, “we support affordable housing in many forms, but the just-cause eviction ordinance actually erodes the strength of rental housing. Property owners who own rental housing now must be concerned about this new limitation the city has imposed on their freedoms, and if they choose to sell or otherwise withdraw those units from the rental market, that will actually force rental prices up.” REALTORS® have to care about rental housing rules, he adds, because they directly affect families who are buying and selling homes, and the way REALTORS® do their jobs.

The Bay East Association of REALTORS®, together with the rest of the public, learned about Hayward’s proposed rental ordinance less than a week before it went to vote. Springing in to action, they designed a REALTOR® Party Mobile Alert text campaign, and a targeted email campaign: more than 175 messages of opposition were sent to the City Council in a 48-hour span.

Prior to the vote on the ordinance, 2019 Bay East Association President Nancie Allen testified before the City Council. In addition to citing the need for better planning and the additional burden of liability that the just-cause eviction requirement places on her members, she respectfully asked the Council to provide the public with more notice when such important issues come up in the future. Though the ordinance was passed, Stark points out that engaging members through Advocacy Everywhere was a big step in the right direction. “This has just been one chapter in a much longer story, in which the REALTOR® Party is going to be an important character,” he says. “I can’t say enough about working with the staff at the National Association of REALTORS®, and the incredible systems they’ve established. We were able to set up the robust campaign we needed in less than 90 minutes,” he adds, noting, “In the midst of these challenging issues, it’s nice to know we’ve got NAR behind us with resources and expertise.”

To learn more about how the Bay East Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights and safeguarding the region’s vulnerable rental housing market, contact Public Affairs Director David Stark at 925-730-4068.

 

 

 

Read more

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.

 

 

Read more

TREPAC Gets a Fun-filled Boost from Dallas-area Diversity Groups

In the heart of state- and county-fair season, an event that put real ‘fun’ in fundraising took place in downtown Dallas, Texas:  five diversity organizations across the state’s real estate industry joined together to host “Fair Play for TREPAC,” raising a net total of more than $6,600 in an evening of fair-themed retro-pleasures.

Taylor Walcik, who serves on the Board of Directors of both his local MetroTEX Association and the Texas Association of REALTORS®, as well as TAR’s Professional Standards Committee, spearheaded the fun-filled August 15th event. The concept occurred to him, he explains, in brainstorming ways to honor this year’s 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. “I thought it would be super-cool to get all the local diversity groups together, and recognize this important legislation with a “Fair” theme,” he notes. “What’s more fun than a fair?” Judging from the success of the evening, it’s fair to say he was right.

The hosts he pulled together included local chapters of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AAREA), the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the Women’s Council of REALTORS® (WCR), and the Gay and Lesbian Organization of Real Estate (GALORE). It was the first time these groups had been united for a common cause, but Walcik says it won’t be the last: “There’s lots of value in collaborating; we’re all facing different challenges, and sometimes the same challenges, and it makes sense to work together to find solutions by crossing lines. It turns out we work really well together.”

The planning committee timed the event to give REALTORS® one last opportunity to meet their next TREPAC investment level, and many of them rose to the challenge, says Walcik. Admittance was by $85 ticket, which included food and two drinks, and the venue they secured set the tone for the fun-and-games event:  Cidercade, a hard cider tasting room crossed with a huge collection of arcade games. Additional TREPAC funds were raised by extra fair-themed activities like Skee Ball, and Hot Shot and NFL Quarterback Toss tournament brackets. Two especially big money-makers were the Dunking Booth, with TREPAC Trustees and local Executive Committee members in the dunk seat; and a Pie Face Rally that generated heated competition for a chance to hit various chapter presidents and directors with an extra-creamy pie: “Anything for TREPAC!” laughs Walcik, as one of the four targets.

TREPAC sponsored the event together with a number of other affiliates and brokerages whose underwriting covered the entire cost of Fair Play for TREPAC, including the food and drink. The impressive spread was catered by a local celebrity chef, who improved on traditional Texas State Fair food with his own elevated versions of fried chicken strips, fried pickles, corn dogs, and stuffed jalapeños. “Good as it was, there was still lots left over, and we donated it to a local homeless shelter,” notes Walcik.

Another special thing about Fair Play for TREPAC, he adds, is that since the 75 event participants were members of different local REALTOR® associations, rather than from a single local board, each investment in TREPAC was credited to the investor’s primary board affiliation. “We had past and current presidents of local REALTOR® associations, TREPAC Trustees, the Chair of TREPAC, diversity organization presidents and directors as well as TAR and NAR directors in attendance. I think that even the dunk-ees and pie-targets would agree it was an amazingly fun night, and we’d absolutely do it again!”

To learn more about how REALTORS® highlighting the diversity of Texas have come together to support TREPAC, contact Taylor Walcik at or 214-901-3736.

Read more

Post-Hurricane Harvey, Houston REALTORS® are focused on Flood Impact – and How to Keep it from Happening Again

Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey slammed Harris County, Texas, killing 50 people and swamping 204,000 homes, voters were called to the polls to accept or decline the region’s largest bond proposal ever: $2.5 billion for flood-control projects and flood mitigation. The measure passed with 85% support; the Houston REALTORS® helped get out the vote.

Adoption of the Harris County Flood Bond Ballot Measure does more than create a fund paid for by a modest 10 to 15-year property tax increase: it will provide the necessary seed money to secure matching dollars from the federal government. “We’re talking about funding for major flood-control projects on 23 watersheds right in Harris County, says Dana Kervin, Chief Political Strategist of the Houston REALTORS®. “These projects are shovel-ready, and now we know where the money’s coming from.” The projects include channel improvements, detention basins, flood-plain land acquisition, new flood-plain mapping, and an improved early flood-warning system, plus a significant allowance for prevention and mitigation measures yet to be identified.

There’s no question that flood mitigation is very much a REALTOR® issue, says Kervin, noting that every day in the year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) has been working on recovery. “Our ear is on the ground, and preventing this kind of destruction from happening again is our top priority. Right now, as we see it occurring in the Carolinas,” she adds, “we’re working on sharing what we’ve learned here with our colleagues there, so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

In October 2017, HAR President Kenya Burrell-Van Wormer led an industry-wide conversation on the subject of flood recovery, loans, and FEMA. This summer, HAR supported the NAR’s Call for Action on extending the National Flood Insurance Program with a number of local calls for the cause. And Ed Wolff, co-chair of HAR’s Government Affairs Advisory Group, has become a significant community leader on flood issues. “Ed is a great spokesperson, leading the charge for greater homeowner protections; his own home has been flooded three times, so he speaks from hard-won experience.” His fellow co-chair, Ward Arendt, is right there with him, working on the state and federal side, says Kervin. She also credits Judge Ed Emmet, and Jim Blackburn of Rice University, with reaching out to diverse populations to get many people on board with the Flood Bond. “They provided the transparency that gave voters confidence in the measure. The election was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Harvey, but as it wasn’t a regular November election, it wasn’t necessarily on the radar with Harris County voters. It took a lot of doing to raise awareness.”

In early July, HAR commissioned a poll through the NAR’s campaign services staff to gauge the temperature of the voting public. “It showed us that registered voters who were aware of the Flood Bond were largely in favor of it,” says HAR Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton. The positive results meant that HAR could stop short of a full-on Issues Mobilization campaign. “The poll helped us to maintain a lean strategy,” notes Burton, “and we were also able to use specific data results to craft our message in a targeted mailing, urging members to vote.” She adds that this kind of policy decision affects Harris County residents on a very personal level: “Ever since Harvey, it’s so stressful when it rains. I know I’m not alone in wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to get to work?’ The passage of the Harris County Flood Bond measure is going to relieve a lot of minds.”

To learn more about how Houston REALTORS® are helping to safeguard the region against future devastation like that wrought by Hurricane Harvey, contact Chief Political Strategist Dana Kervin at 713-629-1900 ext. 223; or Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton at 713-629-1900 ext. 269.

 

Read more

District of Columbia REALTORS® Get Legislative Results Protecting Property Owners and Housing Providers

DCAR’s Advocacy Everywhere Issue Alert

The 2,900-member District of Columbia Association of REALTORS® (DCAR) didn’t have to look far for help when it faced two legislative issues requiring prompt grassroots action recently: thanks to the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program, they were able to send REALTOR® Party Mobile Alert texts and emails that spurred members to contact their City Council members. Both times, the REALTOR® message got through loud and clear and helped to protect the city’s property owners.

Bryan Frantz, DCAR’s head of Communications, learned about the Advocacy Everywhere program when a representative from NAR visited one of DCAR’s recent Public Policy meetings, and presented ‘the new tool.’ “We just happened to have two issues that were coming into play, and the timing couldn’t have been better. We are lucky in having a core group of members who are very active in city governance, and even know various Council members personally, which is invaluable. But there comes a point when what really gets a legislator’s attention is an unknown constituent, a new name in the inbox, voicing an opinion. Advocacy Everywhere is not only a technically smooth and sophisticated platform, but it got us those fresh voices.”

Katalin Peter, DCAR’s Vice President of Government Affairs, agrees, and notes that in the midst of a particularly chaotic legislative session the input from REALTORS® definitely made a difference in the outcome of both issues.

The first was a budgetary matter: DC’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget emptied DC’s Real Estate Guaranty and Education Fund, an important consumer protection tool. About 140 DCAR members contacted their Council members, urging them to safeguard the fund; At-Large Council members received every single communiqué. When the final budget bill passed, not only was a substantial portion of the Real Estate Guaranty Fund saved, but it was restored with new protections that would mitigate the threat of special assessments down the road. “How important was our advocacy? The Guaranty Fund was the only one out of the 30 or so on the block that was restored in the final budget,” states Peter, adding, “It was a real case of persistency.”

The second Call for Action was issued to amend a 40-year old law protecting landlords in eviction cases. The Council ran into an emergency situation, explains Peter, when the U.S. Marshals Service stepped back from their involvement in eviction cases in the District. The City Council cobbled together new legislation to bridge the gap; though it was a well-intended effort to make the process as humane as possible, it placed an unfair logistical and financial burden on the property owner, who may already have been losing rent on the property in question. DCAR presented a more moderate alternative solution, and turned again to Advocacy Everywhere to drum up member support. “Though this Call for Action brought in only 36 responders,” reports Frantz, “every single one made a significant impact. This legislation was moving fast, and we only had three days to mobilize our members to flip the bill on its back and call for a complete change. The team at the National Association of REALTORS® was incredibly responsive and put the CFA together over a summer weekend.” In the end, the City Council voted to change the requirement from a landlord having to store an evicted tenant’s belongings off-site for 30 days, to storing them on-site for only seven. “We achieved a fairer result for housing providers here in the District,” says Peter, “and even with hours of midnight negotiations, we couldn’t have pulled it off without the grassroots support of the REALTOR® Party.”

To learn more about how REALTORS® in the nation’s capital are protecting the rights of property owners with tools from the REALTOR® Party, contact Katalin Peter, DCAR’s Vice President of Government Affairs, or Bryan Frantz, Communications Associate.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more