Success Story

Houston Association Gathers and Shares Hurricane Harvey Recovery Resources with Multicultural Associations

Hurricane Harvey wreaked Texas-sized devastation on the greater Houston region, but the larger-than-life spirit of Texas residents helping each other through the hard times is a powerful silver lining.

Being especially in tune with the complexities of destruction caused by flooding, real estate professionals are at the forefront of the ongoing aid effort:  the state association’s Disaster Relief Fund was mobilized before the storm had subsided, and the leadership of the 37,000-member Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) launched into gear while people were still being rescued. In November, with the help of a REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grant, HAR brought together and shared recovery resources with its multicultural industry colleagues in a program called “Road to Recovery: Life After Harvey.”

Kenya Burrell-VanWormer of JPMorgan Chase, who is HAR’s recently installed 2018 Chair, explains point-blank: “Natural disasters do not discriminate. Harvey affected everyone!” The inspiration for the event, she continues, came from an all-day relief effort sponsored by the Houston Black Real Estate Association, in which she, her 9-year-old daughter, and a fellow HAR Director participated right after the storm. “It was such a moving experience, and it prompted us to plan a program of our own at HAR. As REALTORS®, we know that our professional value is in our information and knowledge.  As leaders, we realized that by engaging our fellow industry professionals in all the local minority associations, we could provide these valuable resources which they, in turn, could share with their clients and colleagues and friends.”

The Directors of HAR agreed that such an event was needed, and the attendance numbers bear out their vision. With the support of President and CEO Bob Hale, and the tireless staffing of TREPAC Director Karen Driscoll, HAR developed a half-day program featuring a line-up of candid, open-minded industry speakers who covered topics ranging from mold remediation, to available funding for homes and businesses, to tax relief, to dealing with the emotional aftermath.  HAR invited members of the local chapters of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB,) the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA,) the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP,) the Hispanic Mortgage Lender Organization (HMLO,) and the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP,) as well as the Houston Independent Real Estate Brokers Association (HIREBA) and the Houston Black Real Estate Association (HBREA). Nearly 300 individuals attended, enjoying a complimentary lunch and a supportive, informative, collegial afternoon. Many received door prizes of gift cards to grocery and department stores; one even won an iPad. All were heartened by a report from an industry analyst showing that despite Harvey, the outlook for the regional real estate market was stronger than expected.

“In our industry, we can all admit to short attention spans, constantly checking our phones,” laughs Burrell-VanWormer, “so I think it’s a clear measure of success that the audience was totally engaged with the speakers, and paying serious attention to all the highly relevant information.” At a simple reception for committee members following the event, she adds, the question on everyone’s lips was “Ok – what next?” The follow-up is still in development, but one thing is clear, she notes:  “Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, and we have one of the most diverse populations in the nation.  As a city, we embrace diversity, as an association we embrace diversity, and with the continued support of the REALTOR® Party, we will continue this mission as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act in 2018.”

To learn more about how REALTORS® in the Houston region are helping neighbors, clients—and each other—survive the effects of Hurricane Harvey, contact 2018 HAR Chair, Kenya Burrell-VanWormer, at 713-628-8383.

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Pacific Southwest REALTORS® Advocate for Transit-oriented Smart Growth

Housing affordability is the top priority for California’s governor.  It’s the principal challenge for the mayor and the San Diego City Council.  And it’s of utmost concern to the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS® (PSAR), with 2,000 members in the trenches of the local real estate industry, where rents have skyrocketed in the past decade, and would-be first-time homebuyers are struggling.  PSAR recently used a REALTOR® Party Smart Growth Action Grant to co-sponsor a report that convinced the city to adopt a handful of policy measures to help ease the crisis.

The grant was used to support the work of Circulate San Diego, the region’s leading nonprofit concerned with transportation and sustainable land use issues, as it developed recommendations for transit-oriented development. A prime focus of the plan was updating the city’s existing Density Bonus program, along with other incentives making it easier for in-fill development to move forward.

Tracy Morgan Hollingworth, Government Affairs Director at PSAR, served on the technical advisory board of Circulate San Diego’s Transit-Oriented Development report.  Its goals were to:

  • Reduce costs for new affordable and market-rate mixed-use developments near transit
  • Generate more economic development from region’s transit investments
  • Create better links between homes and jobs through transit
  • Reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions by accommodating future growth near transit

Shortly after receiving Circulate San Diego’s report, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt five new incentives based on its recommendations.  Rather than increasing density rates, the new ordinances make it faster and simpler to build housing units that are already allowed.  The incentives include: an increase in the existing Density Bonus Program, which rewards developers for including a certain number of low-income units in their building projects; reducing the parking space minimum for units built close to transit stations; and allowing low-income units to be built up to a mile away from market-rate units, within a single development project, for construction efficiency.

Hollingworth notes that the beauty of the new ordinances is that they simply remove obstacles that have discouraged building where increased density has already been approved.  “It’s about maximizing density to the allowed limits, not increasing the density rates.  This will add desperately needed housing units where there’s existing infrastructure, and give developers and builders a fair degree of flexibility. And because it covers the entire city, it takes some of the pressure off individual neighborhoods struggling to update their community plans, which can be a lengthy and tortured process.”

Rafael Perez, a PSAR member active in city politics, attended many Circulate San Diego meetings and provided testimony for the City Council.  He notes that the coalition of organizations supporting Circulate San Diego in this complex effort was highly unusual in its diversity. “You’d expect to see environmentally-focused groups getting behind transit-oriented development,” he says, “but the presence of the REALTORS® and other business groups brought valuable angles of expertise, and a critical balance, to the process.  And for the City Council to have found the recommendations acceptable on both sides of the aisle, tells you how universally beneficial they’ll be.  For REALTORS®,” he adds, “our involvement also demonstrates our vested interest in the region, and helps to disprove the all-too-common notion that we’re only interested in sales.”

To learn more about how the Pacific Southwest REALTORS® are working to help San Diego maximize housing density and implement transit oriented development initiatives, contact Government Affairs Director Tracy Morgan Hollingworth at 619-222-8155.

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Texas REALTORS® Take Advocacy to Another Level Using Social Media

Headquartered across the street from the Texas Capitol and just around the corner from the Governor’s Mansion, the Texas Association of REALTORS® has never been shy about political advocacy. In recent years, it has also eagerly harnessed the power of social media to communicate with its 114,000 members. Combining its political prowess and social media savvy, in mid-December TAR upped its advocacy game by offering a preview of the state’s upcoming legislative session on Facebook Live.   

The half-hour preview and Q&A event was hosted by TAR’s Director of Legislative Affairs Daniel Gonzalez, whose depth of knowledge and engaging demeanor make him a natural spokesperson. Opening with a brief overview of his department’s work at TAR, he reminded members that the association’s legislative agenda is not driven by staff, but by REALTOR® volunteers from across the state who serve on TAR’s Public Policy Committee. Assuring viewers that TAR will read every single word of the six-to-seven thousand bills filed during the course of the session, he noted that it would be tracking roughly one third of them, including many that aren’t about real estate or private property rights, but which have a big-picture, long-term bearing on the industry.

In addition to letting viewers know what their legislators will be tackling in the session that began in January, Gonzalez took the opportunity to direct their attention to the latest issue of Texas REALTOR® magazine, and to hiddenpropertytax.com, an educational site that TAR has launched to clarify a complex legislative issue now in play in Texas.  He also urged members to participate in the annual REALTOR® Day at the Texas Capitol this spring. With ten minutes to go, he fielded questions from the live audience on topics ranging from title insurance rates to homeowner associations.  

Brandon Alderete, TAR’s Director of Political Affairs, points out that the association is right at home with webcast technology. “We’ve been delivering CE course content to our 77 local associations via online video for several years now,” he notes. “The live feed is the exciting innovation here, allowing us to interact directly with so many members who are already right there, following us on Facebook.” Nearly 1,500 viewers tuned in to the live and recorded sessions over the first 24 hours, and the post was also shared by dozens of individual Texas REALTORS® and local associations. TAR had promoted the event with organic and paid social media, through email newsletters and via text message through the REALTOR® Party Mobile Alert system just before the webcast began, generating more than 500 click-throughs.

“Whatever we can do to enhance communication with members, we’ll pursue it,” says Gonzalez.  “Facebook Live is a fairly new phenomenon, but we thought it would be worth a shot,” he adds, noting that based on the enthusiastic feedback, his department will continue to share legislative issues with the membership via live webcasts.  “Our members really responded, and seem to want more. That’s the way we like ’em: engaged and asking questions!”

To see firsthand how the Texas Association of REALTORS® is keeping its members connected to legislative issues affecting their industry and their communities, see https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155514734234298&id=89617004297. To learn more, contact Brandon C. Alderete, Director of Political Affairs, at 512-370-2124.

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Medina County Ohio REALTORS® Improve, Invest in Community with REALTOR® Party Grants

With nearly 800 members keeping their ears to the ground, the Medina County Board of REALTORS® (MCBOR) never has to wonder what the needs of the community might be. In 2016, it met three such needs with funding assistance from the REALTOR® Party’s Housing Opportunity Grants and a Placemaking Grant. Ranging from housing for disabled veterans, to vegetable gardens for low-income citizens, to improving a bike path for the public, these projects demonstrate the deep level of investment these MCBOR REALTOR® professionals have in their community. 

Sherry Stell, MCBOR’s Association Executive, explains that her organization has strong Housing Opportunity and Legislative Committees, but that its community service issues emerge organically, without any systematic approach. “If the need is there, members will call it to our attention, and we’ll try to find out if it is possible to obtain a grant within the REALTOR® Party program,” said Stell. For example, a MCBOR committee member who serves as a trustee of one of Medina County’s townships recognized an opportunity for the REALTORS® to contribute to public fitness when a former golf course in his township was being converted to a public park and required funding to transform golf cart paths to mountain bike paths.  The Placemaking Grant program does not fund repair work on existing paths, but this fall, MCBOR succeeded in securing a $1,300 grant for a park map and information display case branded with the Medina County Board of REALTOR®S name and REALTOR® logo, along with a “Saddle Buddy” mountain bike repair and cleaning station.

Another significant community service project for MCBOR came about when one of its members handled the sale of a property to an organization that planned to convert the home to housing for disabled veterans requiring round-the-clock care. “That’s how we found out about Newbridge Veterans Place,” says Stell. “Our membership is more than happy to support our veterans.  Newbridge Veterans Place became the beneficiary of our Annual Charity Bowl-a-Thon, which attracted more than 140 participants and raised more than $3,000.” Along with a $5,000 NAR Housing Opportunity Grant and three REALTOR® Care Days, MCBOR volunteers donated their time and skill to help the organization get the property up and running. “So much was needed in this seven-bedroom home to get it ready to house low income/homeless and disabled veterans,” notes Stell. “Our members helped with painting, hanging blinds and setting up the kitchen, in addition to purchasing and moving furniture into the home.” 

Yet another project arose because of MCBOR’s longstanding support of Medina Creative Housing, an organization that promotes the development and management of permanent affordable housing for people with disabilities. In the past, the REALTORS® have received a REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant to support the programmatic goals of the charity’s Life Skills Lodge as a comprehensive occupational therapy environment. “This year,” reports Stell, “they wanted help installing raised garden beds, to help residents to grow their own produce and sell the excess at the farmers’ market for income. Our community is so fortunate to have this amazing organization, and this project, in particular, helps the broader population by providing fresh locally grown vegetables. It’s a real win-win.” On a hot day this summer, a team of MCBOR members got together and met at the site to build the garden beds, with materials paid for by a Placemaking Grant. As always, Stell put the word out among her affiliate members, who not only pitched in to help, but provided coffee, donuts and pizza. “Our members are very supportive of each other in these efforts,” she adds, “whether it’s with hard labor or coffee service.  Knowing that the REALTOR® Party is behind them with all its resources, makes all of us feel like we really can make a difference when these needs arise.”    

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Medina County, Ohio are making an impact on their community with the help of the REALTOR® Party, contact Sherry Stell, Association Executive of the Medina County Board of REALTORS®, at 330-722-1000.

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Mississippi REALTORS® Know How to Move the Vote

Any household move comes with a mile-long to-do list. Even with the best intentions, between the packing and contacting the utility companies, it’s easy to let the not-as-urgent items fall by the wayside. In a special initiative this year, building on a longstanding program, the 5,800-member Mississippi Association of REALTORS® (MAR) is taking care of one important task that clients might otherwise overlook in a move—voter registration.

Given the association’s strong culture of advocacy, and the grassroots spirit of its members, this energetic outreach is only natural, says Lisa Hollister, MAR’s 2016 President. She credits Ellen Short, MAR’s President back in 2003, with spearheading the association’s Move the Vote initiative.  “REALTORS® are the ones in the trenches, out in the community, and at every closing,” she says. “Ellen and her team recognized this great opportunity to secure the registration of incoming community members, and also of those voters who were just moving across town.” Joining forces with the Secretary of State and the State Auditor, they created the Move the Vote program, which involved getting forms approved by the legislature, making them available to the MAR membership, and encouraging all agents to fill them out and bring them to every closing, whether they were representing the buyer or the seller. The agent also takes responsibility for mailing the forms, the critical final step that could easily fall through the cracks during a household move. 

In 2015, responding to the adoption of NAR’s Core Standards, MAR sent voter registration kits to all its local boards, many of which took to the streets in their communities, setting up registration booths outside grocery stores, big box stores and in shopping malls; one even had a table at a community 5K running event.

President Hollister has made voter registration an integral component of her own initiative this year: “R.S.V.P.” invites all members to join in the efforts of the REALTOR® Party, by Registering, Supporting, Voting and Participating.  “We’re taking a very pro-active stance on voter registration,” she says.  In fact, Hollister has personally visited each of Mississippi’s 21 local boards to promote the R.S.V.P. initiative; even though the voter registration forms and an up-to-date roster of circuit clerks are available on a dedicated page of the MAR website, she urges offices to print out 100 copies of the materials and place them next to their closing folders.  “It’s all about making the process easier,” she says, “for our members, as well as our clients.”

 In addition to her tour of the state, Hollister has led MAR in hosting a series of voter registration drives at various board meetings so far this year.  At three separate events, more than 500 MAR members have had the opportunity to pick up materials for themselves and their clients at tables staffed by the MAR Grassroots Advocacy Task Force. 

Beth Hansen, MAR’s Chief Executive Officer, adds, “Many of our local boards are sponsoring Voter Registration promotions, and we are all making an especially hard push in September, through email blasts and social networking, in advance of the October 8 registration deadline for the upcoming election season.” 

“Our members have been completely receptive to the Move the Vote program for many years, and Lisa is really elevating the effort,” continues Hansen.  “REALTORS® love to help out,” she notes, “and this is just one more way to be of service to clients: not just by checking a task off their lists, but by involving them in the civic activity of their new neighborhoods.”  The benefits are far-reaching, she adds. “Increasing the voting base helps any given jurisdiction, and all these efforts have also helped MAR to build and maintain strong relationships with elected officials, who recognize and appreciate our civic-mindedness.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Mississippi are moving the vote, visit http://msrealtors.org/Member_Services/MoveTheVote.php; or contact Mississippi REALTORS® 2016 President Lisa Hollister at lisawhollister@gmail.com or 228-623-0746; or Beth Hansen, MAR’s Chief Executive Officer, at bhansen@msrealtors.org or 601-932-5241.

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North Carolina REALTORS®’ Smart Moves Changes the Game

When the National Association of REALTORS®’ Core Standards were adopted in 2014, they were the subject of close study nationwide.  In North Carolina, Andrea Bushnell, Chief Executive Officer of the state’s REALTOR® Association, chaired the team that was assembled to address the new requirements.  She realized that if all the local associations in North Carolina needed to create individual advocacy and consumer outreach plans, they’d be re-inventing the wheel many times over.  The solution?  To create a strong single brand that conveys an identity, a message and ongoing content.  It’s called “NC REALTORS®: The Smart Move,” and it’s supported by a Game Changer Grant from the REALTOR® Party.

As Bushnell points out, North Carolina’s growth rate—one of the fastest in the nation—presents a great opportunity for REALTORS® to establish themselves as industry leaders in minds of their clients, elected officials and the general public.  The dual goal of The Smart Move initiative is to promote public understanding of the value of using a REALTOR®, and to position REALTORS® as the premier real estate resource and a key partner to communities and municipalities.

The initiative consists of a number of tactical elements including a bright,  attractive logo, branded products, promotional programming, tools and an extensive ‘library’ of distributable content that local associations and even individual offices will be able to download and brand as their own.  The centerpiece of the initiative is a consumer contest encouraging homeowners to share stories of how an NC REALTOR® brought value to their homebuying experience.  Over the course of a month this summer, their video entries will be accepted in a competition to win $7,500 for home improvements.  The winning homeowner’s REALTOR®, and that professional’s local REALTOR® Association, will also win $2,000, for professional development and association recognition, respectively.  The contest will be judged by a panel of REALTORS® and communications experts or North Carolina celebrities, and the winner will be announced at the NC REALTORS® Conference in September.

The gradual roll-out of The Smart Move initiative began early this year, and is being conducted in phases to ensure optimal market saturation.  Bushnell reports that her members love the colorful and energetic logo that expresses their new brand identity; soon, they’ll be seeing it on unused billboard space that the state association, as a not-for-profit entity, was able to secure at a steep discount.  The brand will be incorporated into all association business, including materials for Advocacy Day.   The content pieces will be produced for as long as they are effective and in-demand.  “There is no ‘end-date,’” says Bushnell, adding that her team will reassess the initiative on an ongoing basis. 

The REALTOR® Party’s Game Changer Grant projects must be broadly replicable, and The Smart Move certainly fits the bill.  “Improving the perception of REALTORS® is not a North Carolina issue, it’s a national issue,” says Bushnell.  While they were at it, the state association changed its name from ‘The North Carolina Association of REALTORS®’ to ‘NC REALTORS®.’  “It’s not about being short and sweet,” explains Bushnell.  “An association is a thing, an institution, and we want to be clear about the fact that we represent people: real, tangible, individual professionals who are a vital part of their North Carolina communities.”  

To learn more about how North Carolina REALTORS® are promoting their image in the minds of clients, elected leaders, and the general public, contact Andrea Bushnell, CEO of North Carolina REALTORS®, at abushnell@ncrealtors.org or 336-808-4222.  To see The Smart Move initiative in action, visit http://thesmartmovenc.com/.

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Land Use Initiative Helps Hawaii REALTORS® Address Affordable Housing

The habitable area of any island is limited by definition. On the beautiful Hawaiian islands, the combined effect of vast acreage of protected natural lands, the highest cost of living in the U.S. and a severe shortage of affordable housing brings land use issues into still sharper focus; so do the tents that line many city streets.  The Hawaii Association of REALTORS® (HAR) is taking steps toward review and reform of the state’s complex Land Use System, with a specific goal of clearing road blocks to affordable housing.  The REALTOR® Party is helping.   

 

“HAR acknowledges our collective responsibility to protect Hawaii’s exceptional natural resources,” says Myoung Oh, the association’s Government Affairs Director.  But, like elsewhere, anyone with development interests in Hawaii must find balance with conservationists, residents and retirees who don’t want new building projects in their back yards; HAR, notes Oh, must constantly combat the perception that its industry is only interested in financial gain.  The other significant challenge, he explains, is that land use in Hawaii is governed by regulations that have been in place since the 1960s and ’70s.  Some of these are simply outdated, and others are redundant; either way, they add costs and unnecessary inefficiencies to the reasonable use of land in the state, including affordable housing.    

Last fall, having reviewed the approval process that a developer seeking to build affordable housing would have to navigate, HAR identified no fewer than seven different layers of land use control.  Even the 201-H statute meant to fast-track affordable housing projects of less than 15 acres didn’t relieve the onerous requirements, including oversight by the quasi-judicial state Land Use Commission.  Investigating the possibility of introducing a bill in the 2016 Legislative Session to delegate state land use jurisdiction over 201-H projects to the respective county governing body, HAR turned to the REALTOR® Party for an expert opinion.  A Land Use Initiative review by Robinson & Cole LLC provided thorough analysis of the proposal, and guidance moving forward. 

The review reminded HAR that any proposal reducing the regulatory burden on developers could spur strong opposition.  It advised the association to take the time to collect more data demonstrating how detrimental state jurisdiction is to the development of affordable housing units.  It also advised holding the proposal until all of Hawaii’s counties had completed the process of designating their protected lands, as those boundaries would have bearing on their proposed jurisdiction over 201-H projects.  Finally, it warned that the proposal could attract criticism for not addressing other barriers to affordable housing development.

“This was all valuable feedback,” says Oh, who acknowledges that although ideally, HAR would like to help effect an overall, holistic reform of Hawaii’s Land Use System, its work will be more effective with a needle, than with a hammer. 

He notes that the upcoming election year presents a number of promising opportunities, and that the REALTORS® will be talking with all the candidates for state office, as well as incumbents, about these land use issues.  “It’s a great model, having candidates and elected officials come in and talk to us about what matters to REALTORS® as professionals, and as members of their communities.  We’ll share ideas, and talk about where our efforts have fallen short, and where we can play a role moving forward.  These conversations, informed by the Land Use Initiative review provided by the REALTOR® Party, help our elected officials see us as a partner in solving land use challenges, rather than an opponent.”

HAR is also now in the process of conducting a major consumer survey to gauge sentiment on everything from construction and traffic, to affordable housing, to the perception of REALTORS®.  “It should be very revealing,” says Oh. “We’ll share the data with our legislators, again, as partners.  And we’ll also use it to inform future consumer awareness efforts, to educate the public about the value of REALTOR® advocates.”     

To learn more about how Hawaii’s REALTORS® are taking the lead on addressing the state’s affordable housing issues, contact Myoung Oh, Government Affairs Director of the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060.

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Kansas REALTORS® Use Issues Mobilization to Prevent Local Property Tax Increases

Back in 1908, the Kansas state legislature passed a law that required a public vote to approve any property tax increase that was greater than two-percent over the rate of inflation. Nearly a century later, in 1999, that law was repealed. Since then, as property taxes in Kansas steadily mounted at a much higher rate, champions of property rights had been waiting for a political environment favorable to reinstating the public-vote requirement; in 2015, the Kansas Association of REALTORS® (KAR) led a successful campaign to do just that. The new law, however, would not go into effect for over two years, leaving plenty of time for local governments to raise taxes in anticipation of the coming cap. So, early in 2016, KAR launched an energetic public awareness campaign to convince the legislature that the window needed to be closed much sooner. Using an Issues Mobilization grant from the REALTOR® Party, it got its point across loud and clear.

Kansas has among the highest property taxes in the nation, notes Patrick Vogelsberg, KAR’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs.  This affects not only homeowners, it deters the state’s ability to attract businesses to set up shop and increase the tax base.  But while polling conducted by NAR’s Campaign Services team revealed that voters supported the property tax vote requirement, and were unhappy with the rate at which property taxes had been rising without it, fewer than a quarter of them were aware of the recent legislation that would go into effect in 2018. As local governments and local media were engaged in a determined effort to have the new law completely repealed, a coalition led by KAR countered their messaging by appealing directly to voters, encouraging them to contact their legislators in support of moving up the date that the property tax vote requirement would go into effect. The campaign was called ‘Let Kansas Vote.’

Together with support from the KAR Issues Mobilization Fund and several coalition partners, a major grant from the REALTOR® Party powered the highly strategic effort involving contract lobbying support; a dedicated website providing letter-to-the-editor links and a Contact Your Legislator feature; digital and radio advertising; and the call-to-action mobilization of REALTORS® from KAR’s 8,200-strong membership base. During the 2016 KAR Capitol Conference Meeting, REALTORS® members face-to-face with their legislators to share their ‘finger-on-the-pulse-of-the community’ expertise.     

Going into the 2016 Legislative Session, notes Vogelsberg, the intense opposition of many local governments to the property tax vote requirement, compounded by numerous newspaper editorials attacking it, was causing a number of lawmakers to second-guess their support of the issue.  “Armed with actual polling data, and with our folks on the ground speaking out in force, we were able to cut through the misinformation and demonstrate the will of the voters.”

Vogelsberg credits his predecessor, Luke Bell, who is now executive vice president of the Illinois REALTORS®, with masterminding the campaign.  “Luke understood the kind of advocacy effort that would be needed to overcome the opposition from local governments and the media,” he says.  Thanks in large part to the public pressure and direct lobbying applied by the campaign, the KAR coalition was able to broker a compromise that moved the implementation date of the law up by a full year, and closed a number of unnecessary loopholes. 

The final agreement on the property tax vote requirement passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the Kansas legislature at the end of April, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 9. 

“This would not have been possible without the support of the REALTOR® Party,” states Vogelsberg, who adds, “These resources really set us apart, with a level of political sophistication that is beyond anything we see from other advocacy groups up at the Statehouse. With the ability to deploy this kind of power, the question is not ‘Why would you turn to the REALTOR® Party for help?’—it’s ‘Why wouldn’t you?!’”

To learn more about how Kansas REALTORS® strengthened their state’s property rights by using an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, contact Patrick Vogelsberg, Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the Kansas Association of  REALTORS®, at patrick@kansasrealtor.com or 785-267-3610.

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Austin REALTORS® Accept Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness

Last summer, Mayor Steve Adler issued a challenge to the City of Austin to end homelessness among its U.S. veterans by Veterans Day 2015. The ambitious goal, a direct result of a national initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, would take a major coordinated effort from the community leadership to succeed. The Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) answered the call in a big way.

Basing its response to the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness on the best practices of Houston and New Orleans, two cities that had achieved that same goal, a coalition of Austin’s leading business and civic organizations planned a three-step approach: first, identifying veterans in need of housing; second, getting them immediately into temporary hotel and motel housing arrangements and enrolling them in appropriate social services; and, finally, moving them in to permanent housing. “The second step is critical,” explains Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst in ABoR’s Public Affairs Department. “If you think of a normal rental situation, it takes more than a single day to take care of the lease arrangements, the background checks, the banking requirements, etc. Now, imagine you can’t locate or contact your client from day-to-day, and what a barrier that would be to a successful move. Getting the veterans into safe and stable temporary housing for a week or two is essential to expediting their moves to permanent housing.”

With a $15,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, ABoR was the sole funding source in facilitating these transitions to longer-term housing arrangements. The ABoR Foundation also provided $5,000 to a fund called Housing for Heroes that would mitigate risk for potential landlords, a contribution that prompted a matching gift from the Austin Apartment Association. ABoR also engaged its many property management members in the effort, and they proved to be an invaluable resource for rental housing stock.

ABoR Chief Executive Officer Paul Hilgers, a member of the Mayor’s Challenge taskforce, says that it’s been a great opportunity for the REALTORS® to demonstrate their leadership in Austin’s business community. “It has been politically meaningful, as well, being involved in an area not typically thought of as ‘REALTOR® territory.’ Our involvement has helped to establish important relationships with civic leaders working to solve the problems of homelessness,” he

notes, adding, “we’re showing that there’s depth to REALTORS® beyond selling real estate, and that REALTORS® care about, and are able to help solve, community challenges.”

Ann Howard, Executive Director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), the organization coordinating the direct service work, asserts that, while they are still waiting to hear if federal benchmarks were reached, the system created in response to the Mayor’s Challenge is making sure housing needs are met. “Having the Austin Board of REALTORS® at the table with us was critical to getting the word to property owners and managers that we needed rental housing for veterans experiencing homelessness,” she says. “REALTORS® with access to duplexes and four-plexes brought options to help meet needs of diverse veteran households, and helped secure enough housing to make hundreds of placements possible. With REALTORS® and property managers on the team, Austin has created a supportive housing system that should make veteran homelessness rare and non-recurring.”

Hilgers states that Austin’s REALTORS® should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. He reminds all REALTORS® that no matter how small their town, they have the largest trade association in the community, which means the ability to have major impact in the local area, in addition to being part of the largest trade association in the country.

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Austin have taken a leadership role in helping the city’s veterans access adequate housing, contact Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst of ABoR’s Public Affairs Department, at 512-454-7636.

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Job Growth Creates Housing Opportunity


 

It’s the kind of “problem” that most cities wouldn’t mind having: companies like Amazon, IKEA, and Mars Candy opening or expanding facilities within city limits. Joliet, Illinois is experiencing impressive job growth, and is seeking to convert commuters and renters into local homeowners; it has even announced a $650,000 down payment assistance program. All it needed to do was reach those potential homebuyers.

That’s where the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® (TRAR) stepped up to the plate.  As Gideon Blustein, a Local Government Affairs Director at Illinois REALTORS (IAR) explains, the 1,005-member association had identified Joliet as a target community for increased engagement, and strengthening relations with the new mayor and local government had been written into TRAR’s strategic plan for 2015/16.  Using a $4,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from The REALTOR® Party to cover much of the expense, the Three Rivers Association partnered with the City of Joliet, the Will County Center for Community Concerns and IAR to host the first-ever “Experience Joliet Homeownership Exposition,” on a Saturday in April at Joliet West High School. The event was an all-out success, drawing about 250 consumers who were there to learn about buying a house in Joliet.

The goal of the expo was three-fold: first, to highlight the robust down payment assistance and counseling programs available to prospective homebuyers; second, to promote community amenities and resources that make Joliet an attractive place to live; and, finally, to showcase five diverse homes that were on the market, and direct consumers to the nearly 100 open houses that would take place the next day.

Five weeks prior to the expo, about eighty TRAR members and affiliates attended a “lunch-and-learn” at which Blustein and colleagues from the city presented the nuts-and-bolts of Joliet’s new down payment assistance program.  The incentive is not just for first-time home buyers; it’s available to all who meet a certain income level—one that intersects with most of the current job growth in the area.  During the program, the expo organizers signed up most of their vendors, who didn’t have to pay a fee, thanks to the Housing Opportunity Grant.

The free event was heavily marketed online and through digital billboard screens at grocery store check-outs.  When visitors arrived in the morning, they were greeted by thirty-six vendors, from real estate companies to lenders to inspectors, as well as representatives from the local Fair Housing organization and community services like the public libraries, transportation and schools.  “The student ‘ambassadors’ who represented their schools were pretty awesome,” says Blustein, adding that, “Direct interaction with these kids was so much more meaningful for families considering moving to Joliet, than just reading about the schools or hearing about them from a grown-up.”  TRAR also arranged for a community group to provide activities for children, so that parents could focus on the resources at hand.  During the expo, two sponsoring organizations gave presentations on home-buying basics and financial resources available to Joliet homebuyers.  At least 40 REALTOR® volunteers were on hand, making sure everything ran smoothly.

At noon, twenty participants were transported by mini-bus to five available houses in five different Joliet neighborhoods, with the city’s Director of Neighborhood Services acting as tour guide.  “The mood on the bus was effusive,” recalls Blustein.  “Many of those on the tour had just met with lending counselors, and were able to see what they could actually afford, or where they might be with a little work repairing their credit.  They all seemed to feel, at that point, that they’d been given the tools they needed to start the process.  It was one of those moments when we knew we were making an impact.”

The local press covered the story of the Joliet housing expo, and the REALTORS® are hoping to make it an annual event.  “It certainly strengthened our ties with the municipality and our various community partners,” notes Blustein.  “Thanks to the good working relationships we’ve developed, we’re the ones they’re going to call when they need industry expertise. It’s been a big win-win.”

To learn more about how the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® is getting the word out about homeownership opportunities in Joliet, Illinois, contact Gideon Blustein at Illinois REALTORS® at 847-899-1873.

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