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Success Story

Hawai’i REALTORS® Improve Public Education without Property Tax Surcharges

The REALTORS® of Hawai’i want high quality public education throughout their island state. But they oppose the notion of achieving it by amending the state constitution to allow for the creation of a state property tax surcharge on investment properties, as proposed by a ballot initiative in the November 2018 election. Polling services and an Issues Mobilization Grant helped them mount a major effort to counter the proposed measure, leading a coalition of more than 150 organizations.

Ken Hiraki, Government Affairs Director of the 9,700-member state association, explains that although initial polling by the REALTOR® Party showed the troubling ballot proposal was favored among the state’s voters, the National Association of REALTORS® believed it was worth attempting to reverse those numbers with a major public awareness campaign. The grant application was very user-friendly, says Hiraki, noting that NAR’s Issues Mobilization team provided invaluable encouragement, insight, and recommendations throughout the process. “NAR’s support and belief in our cause, even when the initial polling showed us as behind, was what secured the confidence of our coalition partners. We began with four organizations and grew it to well over a hundred. It was a great model of success.”

The campaign featured a two-pronged approach: first, an aggressive education, training, and get-out-the-vote effort among the REALTORS®, who spread the word effectively through their extensive local networks; and second, a coalition-led public media campaign that included television, radio, and newspaper ads, and at least 50 local grassroots events. One of the television spots featured four former state governors discussing the potential detriment to the state and its property and small-business owners. “Once the spots hit, voters finally realized that proponents of the amendment had misled them on the facts,” says Hiraki, adding, “The media also began to report the true facts and the unintended consequences that would result if the measure passed.”

Shortly before the election, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order invalidating the ballot question on the grounds that the language was vague and ambiguous. This legal injunction was triggered by a lawsuit brought by the office of Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell, who noted that he might have not challenged the proposed amendment but for the coalition, which he felt was a credible organization raising legitimate concerns. “Although we were pleased by the ruling, we also knew that we would have won at the ballot box thanks to the support and encouragement of NAR!” states Hiraki. This was proven by the early mail-in ballots printed prior to the court decision and returned by more than 65% of Hawaii voters: the mail-in results showed a 74% opposition to the contested ballot measure.

In addition to the legal failure of the proposed amendment allowing for property tax surcharges, one especially positive outcome for the REALTORS® was that the campaign unified the organization, and strengthened the bonds between REALTORS® on the islands, says Chief Executive Officer Nancy Donahue-Jones. She also notes, “We gained respect from the community as a viable political force, and more than 100 coalition partner-organizations learned that we’re able to deliver.”

Having protected property owners from this particular tax threat, the REALTORS® are actively seeking creative solutions to the problem of inadequate public education: they are looking to partner with the state Department of Education on building rental housing on unused school properties, three of which have already been identified on Oahu. They are also exploring the possibility of adapting existing affordable housing law to give public school teachers first dibs when units become available in new developments.

To learn more about how Hawai’i REALTORS® are working to protect property rights and support public education, contact Ken Hiraki, Government Affairs Director of the Hawai’i Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Sun Valley Board Help Veterans with a Housing Opportunity Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maine Association Facilitates Smart Growth for Once-thriving Mill Town

The Stenton Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palm Springs REALTORS® Defend Short-Term Rental Industry

The sunny resort city of Palm Springs, Calif., is such a popular tourist destination that when its thriving cottage industry of privately operated short-term vacation rental properties was threatened by a recent ballot initiative, even the hotel industry rallied against it. But it was the 1,200-member Palm Springs Regional Association of REALTORS® (PSRAR) that sprang to the defense of private property rights with a powerful campaign made possible by a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant. The proposal was defeated 70% to 30% at the June 5 primary.

“Any way you slice it, this was a huge win for us,” says PSRAR Government Affairs Director Jim Franklin. He explains that fairly strict regulations had just been imposed on the area’s short-term rentals in 2017, and they needed a chance to prove their efficacy. The new proposal, effectively banning all rentals shorter than 28 days, would have affected about 70% of the city’s short term rental properties; in turn, the value of these homes would decrease significantly as a direct result of the ban, says Franklin.

“We belong to a strong coalition of stakeholders that opposed the proposed measure, including the Chamber of Commerce, the City Council, and the mayor,” he continues. “Most of our partners were especially concerned about economic factors, but, as REALTORS®, we were in it to defend the right of property owners to rent their homes to whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, at whatever price they set.” Initial polling by the coalition predicted that the initiative would be defeated 60-to-40, but the stakes were high, and PSRAR wasn’t taking any chances.

The association had received REALTOR® Party Independent Expenditures to support candidates in the past, notes Franklin, but this marked the first time it had ever applied for an Issues Mobilization Grant. “The team at the REALTOR® Party was on board immediately: on the case, with a plan.”  Because 70% of the ballots in the Palm Springs primary were cast by mail, and were sent out to voters 30 days in advance of the election, PSRAR had to act fast. “Within about a week, the Campaign Services team had everything ready to go: three mailers targeting households most likely to vote in the primary, and online and social media advertising,” says Franklin. “All we had to do was work with them on the message, and review and approve the final ads. They did a great job, which meant that we could stay focused on ours.”

The 10% ‘skin-in-the-game’ portion required by the Issues Mobilization Grant program was shared between PSRAR and the California Desert Association of REALTORS®, its neighboring board. REALTORS® loved seeing where their PAC investment was going: right back into their community, reports Franklin, who adds, “If you’ve got an issue that needs strong and savvy support, you’d be foolish not to use this program.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Palm Springs are working to protect private property rights and local property values, contact Government Affairs Director Jim Franklin at 760-485-0858.

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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.

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Kaua`i REALTORS® Use Grant to Engage More Brokers in Advocacy

If brokerages don’t understand the value of the Broker Involvement Program, they’re not likely to join. If agents don’t realize the importance of RPAC, they’re probably not investing. That’s why Hawaii’s Kaua’i Board of REALTORS® (KBR) set out to educate and engage broker-members at a recent information-packed breakfast presentation. Supported by a REALTOR® Party Broker Involvement Program Grant, the event spelled out the importance of supporting the REALTOR® Party, and the critical role that brokerages play, as the key point of contact with their agents. By 10 a.m., 15 firms had newly signed on, representing a significant percentage of KBR’s membership of 584 REALTORS®.

KBR Government Affairs Director Chad Deal, who understands brokers’ reluctance to crowd their colleagues’ in-boxes with automated messages, developed the morning program to dispel such concerns. “We needed to assure our broker-members that the Broker Involvement Program only issues communiqués and calls for action (CFA) for major, time-sensitive, real estate issues, and doesn’t ever abuse the privilege. It was also an important opportunity for us to emphasize the way issues advocacy benefits all members,” he explains.

The program fell within the normal scheduling of KBR’s Brokers’ meetings that take place three-to-four times a year. It featured the President Elect of the Hawaii Association of REALTORS® (HAR), as well as its RPAC Chair, who had everyone in stitches with their joint comic presentation on the importance of Broker Involvement and RPAC. Deal, who himself served on the Government Affairs Committee at the state level for many years, reported on federal, state, and local issues affecting private property and the real estate industry. Shining a spotlight on a serious situation of the sort that could imminently spur a CFA, a Coastal Land Use Extension agent from the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Foundation gave a sobering update on coastal erosion. In a region where properties are already being affected by rising sea levels, the timely topic held significant interest for all program participants.

The brokers in attendance were given a video on RPAC investing produced by HAR, as well as two PowerPoint pdfs to bring back to share with their agents: one on Government Affairs, and another on the affect of the rising sea level on coastal properties. The REALTOR® Party grant also provided for gift cards that were awarded to Major Investors, and to brokers who’d already secured 100% agent participation.

The feedback after the event was fabulous, reports Deal; he has already been invited to attend several upcoming Broker Caravans to appeal to agents directly. “Our brokers were clearly surprised and impressed by their board’s level of involvement in local and state legislation,” he notes. “Many more of them now realize how necessary their involvement is, in advancing real estate issues. Our goal is to sign 100% of our broker-members on to the Broker Involvement Program, so we’ll certainly be doing this again. We’re very grateful to the REALTOR® Party for all it does — and for helping us drum up business, in return, so to speak.”

To learn more about how the Kaua`i Board of REALTORS® is engaging its members in political advocacy, contact Government Affairs Director Chad Deal, at 808-245-4049.

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