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Success-Stories

New York REALTORS® Turn Smart Growth Challenge into Opportunity

It was a significant opportunity couched in a steep challenge: the northernmost borough of New York City is poised for substantial residential and commercial development in the coming years; however, the neighborhoods comprising Bronx Community Board 9 (BXCB9) are 22% denser in population than the Bronx overall, and have very little vacant land available to develop.  A comprehensive plan is needed to generate new development capacity in the area, and to ensure that growth will benefit existing communities, as well as new residents and businesses.  The Bronx-Manhattan North Association of REALTORS® (BMNAR) stepped forward to partner with BXCB9, supporting its efforts with a series of Smart Growth Action Grants from The REALTOR® Party. 

In New York communities, the first step toward increased transport options and re-zoning that allows for mixed-use development and affordable housing is a community-based plan from the Department of City Planning.  To initiate such a plan, a community board must gather data from at least three community engagement events.  With two successive Smart Growth Action Grants, the BMNAR-BXCB9 partnership has been able to hire independent project managers who have researched, developed and conducted the necessary Community Visioning Sessions in six different neighborhoods.  The results, says Eliezer Rodriguez, Esq., BMNAR Association Executive, have reached far beyond anyone’s expectations.        

“Initially, residents were concerned that no one was paying attention to their vision for the wise growth of their neighborhoods.  Now, thanks to these sessions, they have found their voice and can talk in terms of what makes statistical sense, not just an emotional opinion,” says Rodriguez.  “With this new-found ability comes confidence.  The community is more effective in voicing its concerns, and feeling empowered by its influence.” 

While all of the ideas that arose in the Community Visioning Sessions have been documented for the Community-Based Plan Initiative, some spurred immediate action.  For example, notes Rodriguez, there are numerous services and amenities available in the community, but residents pointed out that certain dangerous passages made it difficult for pedestrians to access them safely.  Working with community leaders and law enforcement, BXCB9 has been able to address and correct the dangers, which has benefitted not only the pedestrians, but the neighborhood businesses.

Another unanticipated result of the community’s strategic organization is that it has attracted grants from additional sources.  Two sites within the BXCB9 limits have received highly competitive funding awards from the Parks Department, and the Department of Small Businesses has funded a $75,000 beautification project in a commercial zone.  BXCB9 is getting calls from other boards who are seeing the positive outcomes, and are looking for guidance to follow suit.  “Good work leads to good results!” asserts Rodriguez.  In fact, an even more recent Smart Growth Action Grant that BMNAR has received from NAR will effectively celebrate all that’s been accomplished, supporting the production of a brochure that will serve as a road map and resource guide for other communities looking to involve citizens in planning and positive growth. 

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of the Bronx-Manhattan North are helping residents to articulate their vision for their neighborhoods, contact BMNAR Association Executive Eliezer Rodriguez, Esq., at e.rodriguez@bmar.org or 718-892-3000.

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AL REALTORS® Defeat Flat Tax and Increased Fees with Alabama Homes Matter Campaign

Going into its 2015 session, the Alabama legislature was facing a serious budget shortfall. All possible revenue sources were on the table, including valuable real estate tax provisions.  Using a significant Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the Alabama Association of REALTORS® (AAR) was able to keep threats to organized real estate and property rights at bay, but long-term solutions were still nowhere in sight. When the issue resurfaced at the outset of the 2016 session, the power of the REALTOR® Party was there again for Alabama, and this time it prevailed in no uncertain terms.

Jeremy Walker, now CEO of AAR, was the association’s General Counsel and Government Affairs Director throughout the contentious sessions. “In many states, budget shortfalls are at the top of everyone’s list of concerns; Alabama is no exception,” he says. “The good news is that the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has been an excellent help to all those states fighting budget battles such as ours. The road would have been very difficult without them.”

In the 2016 session, AAR was focused on two possible revenue options threatening property owners and the real estate industry, both of which had significant support in some legislative circles:  a “Flat Tax” proposal which called for the elimination of the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID), which is the fifth most-utilized deduction in Alabama’s tax code; and substantial increases to the Mortgage & Deed Recording Fees, which are passed on to the consumer with the purchase or sale of any property. Using a second Issues Mobilization Grant in as many years, AAR effectively neutralized both these threats with a forceful campaign demonstrating consumer opposition. They called it “Alabama Homes Matter.” Says Walker, “With the assistance of NAR’s Campaign Services team, our leadership was able to develop an aggressive visible strategy showing that we’d fight hard to oppose both these troubling measures. It made such an impression that neither threat came to fruition during the 2016 legislative session.”

The campaign targeted likely-turnout voters in ten House districts and five Senate districts across the state. Outreach urging these constituents to contact their legislators included a dedicated website with direct links to legislators; online ads; mailers with tear-off postcards to legislators; a round of patch-through phone calls; and two full-page ads in the Montgomery Advertiser

“The response of voters was really impressive,” says Walker, who credits the quality of the message crafted by NAR’s Campaign Services Team. Fifty-percent of those contacted by telephone requested to be patched-through to their legislators’ offices, to the point where those offices contacted AAR and asked them to make it stop, the message having been heard, loud and clear. Each House and Senate member targeted received more than 100 mail responses from the tear off mailers, and up to 100 direct emails and letters. The electronic digital ads had six million impressions, half of them on smart phones. Thanks to the terrific force of Alabama Homes Matter Campaign, the Flat Tax proposal threatening the MID was never filed, and the bill promoting higher Recording Fees, though filed, never made it through to committee.          

The second phase of the campaign was AAR’s Membership Day at the Capitol, on which some 300 members traveled to Montgomery to deliver their thanks to legislators who had affirmed their commitment to REALTOR® issues.  “We’re very fortunate to have such an engaged and passionate membership, with a strong tradition of advocacy going back many years,” says Walker. “The fact is, this number isn’t unusual: we typically have 300-400 members show up to engage with their representatives and senators. They want to participate in the process and make their voices heard, and it does make an impact.”  AAR was also gratified to see members using elements of the Alabama Homes Matter Campaign in ways it hadn’t anticipated, he adds. “Members passed along information from the campaign to their clients, saying, ‘we’re fighting for your rights as property owners!’ Our members do much more than help their clients buy and sell property. They also help build communities and advocate for consumers at the local, state and national level.” Again, he credits NAR for helping stimulate this level of grassroots activity with consumers on behalf of property rights and homeownership.  

To learn more about how the Alabama Association of REALTORS® worked with the REALTOR® Party for the second year in a row to defeat state tax reform efforts targeting real estate tax provisions, contact CEO Jeremy Walker at 334-386-5348

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Plymouth and South Shore Association of REALTORS® Plant a Sense of Community with Garden Project

The 2,500-member Plymouth and South Shore Association of REALTORS® (PASS) has a strong and vital charitable arm that is accustomed to raising funds and writing checks, but this past April 16, and again on Earth Day, about twenty members couldn’t resist an opportunity to give back to the community by getting out in the fresh air and getting their hands dirty—literally. 

 

Using a $2,500 Placemaking Micro-Grant from the REALTOR® Party, PASS members helped to build an organic community garden at the Davis-Douglas Farm site of the Wildlands Trust, a rural property in Plymouth that has been conserved and transformed into a public gathering space.  Jean Sawtelle, Communications Director of PASS, explains that the idea of applying for the grant was proposed by REALTOR® Bill Keohan, who was already involved with the Wildlands Trust.  Looking into the viability of the project, Sawtelle determined that it was an ideal fit for the REALTOR® Party’s Placemaking grant program, and received approval of the PASS Government Affairs Committee to submit the application. 

The grant supported the construction of multiple raised garden beds, which were built over the course of two days by Wildland Trust volunteers and about 20 PASS members, including CEO Rachel Tristano and members of the Government Affairs Committee, the Community Service Committee and the newly formed Young Professionals Network. A dedicated “demonstration” bed has been built in a special educational programming area, where the public will be able to see exhibits and learn gardening skills.  The remaining beds will be available for public gardening, and the community will be encouraged to donate excess produce to area food pantries. 

“It’s a wonderful, inclusive garden,” reports Tristano.  “It will bring together members from all segments of the community, from the elderly living in facilities without gardening spaces, to professionals living in the newer high-end career-oriented complexes without hands-on gardens, and people of all different backgrounds and abilities.  One of the best features is that some of the beds are even accessible to those in wheelchairs.”    

The garden is one component of a larger site that also features benches, picnic tables and a tree swing to welcome visitors to the scenic open fields and nearby complex of walking trails; a 100-seat community hall that will serve as a much-needed local gathering place is currently under construction.  “The garden will be a place that produces more than just food,” says Tristano, “it will provide education and produce friendships and a sense of community.” 
 
Sawtelle notes that the application process for the grant from the REALTOR® Party couldn’t have been easier.  Now that PASS has its first placemaking project off the ground, it’s looking into others to take on, particularly for projects that will enhance the walkability of areas along Boston’s South Shore, from Quincy to Plymouth.

To learn more about how South Shore REALTORS® are making their communities greener, more inviting and more productive, contact Jean Sawtelle, Communications Director of the Plymouth and South Shore Association of REALTORS® at 781-826-5139.

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Small in Size, Mighty in Impact: The Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS®

For decades, the Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS® (GMCBOR) has prided itself on involvement in its northern Iowa community.  So when the National Association of REALTORS® established its Core Standards in 2014, GMCBOR already had Community Outreach well in hand.  To formalize its program, the 82-member association developed a Core Standards Committee and Community Outreach Task Force consisting of a handful of REALTORS® and its one-and-a-half staff members, who have ramped up the group’s already robust tradition of community service to an impressive pitch.

According to GMCBOR Executive Officer Amber Scholl, the key group of individuals who make up the Community Outreach Task Force are in direct contact with the City of Mason City, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Parks Department, the Department of Natural Resources and several local businesses and charitable organizations.  They meet with the Core Standards Committee on a monthly basis to implement plans for broad ranging and frequently occurring volunteer opportunities and fundraising events.  “We really haven’t changed our community outreach,” explains Scholl, “we’ve just increased it!”

GMCBOR promotes its volunteer opportunities through its website, its Facebook page, with email blasts and direct calls, and in its monthly membership newsletter.  The staff and Board of Directors apply for matching-funds grants for various community outreach projects from the REALTOR® Party and the REALTOR® Foundation of Iowa, which has been very generous with its support.

Some charitable partnerships, such as with the local food bank and the Salvation Army, have been important longstanding commitments for GMCBOR, while others have been established more recently, but have captured the hearts of many members.  For two years now, for example, Scholl notes, GMCBOR has sponsored projects for My Happy Place, a local non-profit organization that provides room makeovers for local children suffering from illness, disease or emotional distress.  “The REALTORS® raise every dollar they use in each project, and then donate their time and talent to paint walls to transform a child’s bedroom.  For one project,” adds Scholl, “we raised enough extra money to give gas cards to the child’s family to help offset the cost of traveling to Iowa City for medical treatment.”  GMCBOR members can also be found distributing trees with the local power company and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; participating in Earth Day clean-ups; and delivering hot food to homebound neighbors for Meals-on-Wheels. 

REALTORS® and staff who volunteer for these projects or fundraisers proudly wear their blue REALTOR® t-shirts or jackets, and the community is very much aware of the good that REALTORS® are doing, in so many capacities, says Julie McQuaid, 2016 President of the Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS®.  Sometimes a charitable organization will contact the GMCBOR for help; in other cases, a REALTOR® will suggest a cause that could benefit from the board’s involvement.  “Our members live here, and have family here, and have a reason to be invested in the community beyond the benefit that it brings to their business,” says McQuaid.  “This is a group that understands the importance of being a positive influence in the community.”

The community of GMCBOR, itself, is small but thriving, and recently applied for a Placemaking Micro-grant to fund an upcoming community project.  “I’m proud to say that every REALTOR® is involved in some way,” says Scholl, who can usually expect attendance of about 20 to 30 people at the monthly membership meetings that feature a variety of interesting speakers.  She also notes that the board’s RPAC investment rate “blows the annual goals out of the water,” with nearly 100% participation at about $120 per member.  “We’re a small association, so we’re able to be in direct personal contact with everyone,” says Scholl, who credits her leadership team with the success GMCBOR is achieving: “It’s our dedicated Board of Directors who keep the culture of involvement and outreach strong.”

To learn more about how a small board can make a great big impact in its community, contact Amber M. Scholl, Executive Officer of the Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS® at gmcbor@gmail.com or 641-423-1972.

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Local Virginia REALTORS® Offer Valuable Resource for Future Land Use and Growth

The 650-member Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS® (GPAAR) in central Virginia takes a panoramic view of the landscape, and a long view of the future.  When Culpeper County, one of the five counties it serves, was beginning the arduous task of updating its Comprehensive Plan, GPAAR found a way to be a valuable unbiased resource.

GPAAR Legislative Consultant Susan Gaston explains that the association has built strong working relationships with the county’s professional staff, including those in the Planning Office.  It was while she was brainstorming with the county’s Comprehensive Planning Manager about the upcoming review of the Comprehensive Plan, a strategic guide governing the municipality’s future land use and growth decisions, that she came upon the idea of applying for a Housing Opportunity grant from the REALTOR® Party to fund some much-needed research.   

“The county needed a snapshot of its current housing situation, and a projection of what its needs would be 25 years into the future,” she explains, “but it didn’t have the resources to get this done on its own.”  Gaston worked with GPAAR to secure a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant in that enabled it to commission a housing market analysis and housing needs study from a widely respected regional economist, who at the time was attached to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.    

According to the association’s President, Charles M. Miller, “GPAAR works hard day-in and day-out to be a reliable, trusted source of information to our local governments, whether by providing housing sales data or policy details.  We were thrilled that, using NAR’s grant money, we could give the county unfettered access to data from George Mason University’s David Versel, who analyzed and assessed what Culpeper County has and needs in terms of housing. The county can’t do that for themselves,” he adds, “and we can’t do that for them, but the expertise and third-party objectivity of David Versel can, and did. That’s really significant.”

Gaston notes that the study’s objectivity was critical:  “We let the author of the report loose to collect and compile his own data, with no pre-determined outcome—we wanted to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  In order for it to be of use to the county, it had to be absolutely neutral, and not be perceived as having any REALTOR® bias.” 

When the study was delivered to GPAAR, the association handed it over to the county, refraining from any active lobbying for its use.  After the requisite public hearings and the consideration of the Board of Supervisors, it was included, almost in its entirety, as the Housing Chapter of the Culpeper County 2015 Comprehensive Plan, which the Board of Supervisors approved in September.  The report will now inform future land use decisions, such as the updating of local ordinances and the development of housing programs.  As the basis for future public policy decisions concerning housing in Culpeper County, the report provides a focused, data-driven guide on matters ranging from growth in the senior retirement sector to housing for commuters to Northern Virginia.  

“Our members and the county administrators are really pleased at the outcome of this effort,” says GPAAR Chief Executive Officer Debbie Werling. “Our association has gained more credibility with the county, and even with state officials who represent the county. That’s huge. Plus, other counties in the GPAAR footprint have heard what a fabulous tool and resource the housing needs study is to Culpeper County, and they are inquiring how a similar report can be completed for their area. Clearly, we have a good plan and a good tool, and if it can be replicated to help other communities, we are ready to repeat the process.”

Gaston agrees, adding, “We’ve proven, once again, that we’re the trusted resource for housing information, which we bring to bear in so many ways.”  

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Virginia’s Greater Piedmont Area are helping to guide the planning for their region’s future, contact Susan Gaston, Legislative Consultant for the Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS®, at susan@gastongroup.com or 757-871-1445, or Debbie M. Werling, its Chief Executive Officer, at debbie@gpaar.net or 540-347-4866.

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Virginia REALTORS® Partner with “Homes for Our Troops” to Help Injured Veterans Get Mortgage-Free Housing

One in 10 Virginia residents is a veteran or active duty service member.  When the Virginia Association’s Leadership Academy was choosing a class project, supporting veterans and Homes for Our Troops was a natural fit. Together, the Leadership Academy members and Virginia REALTORS® are raising awareness and making the American Dream come true for disabled veterans in the commonwealth. 

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Springfield (MO) REALTORS® Help Restore Beloved City Park to Former Glory – and Then Some

The 1,718-member Greater Springfield (MO) Board of REALTORS® was keen to show that they truly cared about their community.  They found that opportunity by helping to restore the city’s beloved 31-acre Phelps Grove Park after a major ice storm had damaged much of its landscape. With an NAR placemaking grant, they not only helped to bring the park back to life, but they also added a patio at the intersection of several of the park’s walking paths, enhanced by two handsome stone benches bearing the board’s name.

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Coastal Carolinas Association (SC) Gets Around Sign Ordinances With Interactive App to Promote Open Houses

The 3,100 members of Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS® serving 72 miles of coastal communities in South Carolina, were bumping up against strict sign ordinances as they attempted to promote their open houses.  Then, the association came up with an ingenious idea – a new interactive app showing users how to get to open houses and connecting them to listing agents.  With a REALTOR® Party Game Changer Grant they made it made it happen.

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San Diego REALTORS® Open Housing Opportunity Doors for Foreclosure Victims, Minorities and Other Under-served Populations

The Housing Opportunity Committee of the Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS® (GSDAR) is bringing access to the American dream of home ownership to all: one under-served population at a time.  In fact, GSDAR’s exceptional Housing Opportunity efforts were honored in March in the first round of NAR’s Community Outreach Awards.  From veterans and their families, to minority groups, to homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure and are attempting to re-enter the market, the San Diego REALTORS have been there to open doors to housing opportunities.

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Nevada REALTORS® Use Grant and Grassroots Power to Soundly Defeat Proposed Tax on Businesses

The 14,000-member Nevada Association of REALTORS® put an Issues Mobilization Grant from NAR, its own well-honed campaign skills and funds, as well as its significant grassroots power to soundly defeat a massive tax on businesses.  The tax would have eliminated jobs, as well as slowed the state economy.  While the campaign used direct mail, phone banks and email, the most impressive effort was in online advertising.  Their Facebook ad received 11.7 million impressions and 1.2 million video plays!  In the end, 78 percent of Nevada residents voted against it.

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