Success Story

SafeCam Initiative a Game Changer for New Orleans REALTORS®

The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (NOMAR) is no stranger to the grant programs of the REALTOR® Party.  Early in 2014, it used an Independent Expenditure Grant to support the re-election of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who had made great strides reducing blight and increasing access to affordable housing in his first term.  Later that same year, with a Smart Growth Action Grant, it sponsored a Better Block redevelopment project that was a highlight of the annual meetings of the National Association of REALTORS®

Then, early in 2015, Kelli Walker, NOMAR’s Senior Vice President of Governmental Relations, found herself at a meeting where the Chief of the New Orleans Police Department was talking about the benefits of SafeCam, a network of private security cameras on private property, and the fact that the city lacked sufficient funding to install cameras where they were most needed.  The SafeCam initiative, administered by the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation, is a voluntary registry of security cameras that enables police detectives to identify likely sources of crime footage, while the trail is still hot.  The program needed a way to engage the participation of more security camera owners—and it needed more security cameras.

“It was an ‘Aha! moment,’” says Walker.  “I thought to myself, ‘There’s got to be money in the REALTOR® Party for this!’”  She approached the Chief of Police and proposed, point-blank, “Let’s figure this out.”  Applying for a Game Changer Grant, Walker cited the city’s notoriously high crime rate, and the effect it was having, not just on public safety and morale, but on property values and the viability of selling homes in certain New Orleans neighborhoods. 

NOMAR sought and received a $15,000 Game Changer Grant to launch a grassroots promotion of the SafeCam initiative to its members, and to provide for the installation of more high-definition cameras through the city’s Adopt-a-Block program; in involving its membership at the grassroots level, NOMAR is also taking the opportunity to engage REALTORS® in conversations about crime and safety on the job.  Not content to stop there, the association used the grant as a catalyst to spur its members and the public to meet its “100 Camera Challenge,” with a goal of installing a greater critical mass of surveillance devices throughout the city.  “The homeowners who are in greatest need of cameras don’t have the resources to buy them, so it’s up to the wider community to step up and help,” says Walker, who is encouraged by the response to NOMAR’s challenge.  “There’s no reason we have to stop at one hundred!” she adds. 

On January 14, 2016, NOMAR held a press conference with the New Orleans Police Department and the Police & Justice Foundation to announce that the grant was used to purchase and install 34 high-definition security cameras in the most vulnerable areas of the city.  “Our members are really excited about it,” notes Walker.  “It’s a different way for REALTORS® to make a positive impact on a community, and a real public service.  We are so grateful to the grant committee for their support of our endeavor.” 

To learn more about how REALTORS® in New Orleans are helping to combat crime, increase safety and improve property values in their city, contact Kelli Walker, Senior Vice President of Governmental Relations of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of REALTORS®, at 504-274-0705.  The press release issued by the New Orleans Police Department detailing the association’s game-changing support can be found online at http://nola.gov/nopd/press-releases/2016/20150114-new-orleans-metropolitan-association-of-r/.

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Kickstarting Efforts to Make Macon Better was as Easy as ABC

When it comes to identifying the issue that prompted the 400-member Middle Georgia Association of REALTORS® (MGAR) to host a public forum on affordable housing last December, the simple answer, says Arizona White, Chair of the association’s Affordable Housing Committee, is that “There is so much need!” 

The need for information, education, employment and for focused attention on all issues of poverty as they correlate to access to fair and affordable housing was clear to the committee, says White.  With a poverty level near 23.5% in Macon-Bibb County, she explains, the resulting cycle of blight, crime and hopelessness affects the entire community.  MGAR decided to take the ambitious step of addressing all the issues under one roof in a single three-day span, with a goal of connecting Macon residents to available resources, and building collaborative partnerships to tackle targeted challenges.  Qualifying as a Fair Housing Partnership Project, the forum received $5,000 from the REALTOR® Party’s Diversity Initiatives Grant program, and was presented jointly by MGAR and key local agencies, government officials and the local newspaper as “Macon A Better Community: The ABC’s of Transforming a Community through Empowerment and Collaboration.”                                                                              

The forum took place in early December 2015, on the campus of Wesleyan College.  Free and open to the public, it drew more than 150 participants on each of the three days, with session topics ranging from entrepreneurship and community development to career and college planning; a local jobs fair; and workshops for homeowners, homebuyers and senior citizens.  For real estate professionals, there were sessions on helping clients to prevent foreclosure and grant programs available to first-time home-buyers. 

A special invitation-only “Collaboration, Community and Commitment” session was moderated by Dr. James Beverly, a local representative to the Georgia State House who was instrumental in developing the forum.  Bringing legislators, community leaders and various local agencies together to formulate action plans addressing critical needs within the community, this is where big strides were made, says White. 

One of the major issues discussed, for example, was the fact that nearly 300 homes in Macon have no working indoor plumbing; before the close of the session, MGAR and the Macon Water Authority had stepped forward and formed a partnership to address the issue.  “If you think about all the implications associated with the simple lack of running water, from healthcare to education,” White points out, “and multiply that by 300, it’s huge.  So we’ve worked out a plan to elevate that level of basic sanitation in Macon, which will bring the whole community up with it.”  The first step, already underway, is to identify the owners of all the properties in question; then, the partnership will work with plumbing companies to have indoor plumbing either repaired or installed. 

In matters of plumbing and beyond, momentum created by the forum has been strong, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many participants congratulating MGAR and its partners on offering opportunities to do more than just talk about the issues.  In engaging its city in facing the many facets of blight and poverty head-on, the association is clearly a significant part of the solution.

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Middle Georgia are taking the lead to help their community improve access to safe, fair and affordable housing, contact Arizona White, the Middle Georgia Association of REALTORS®‘ Affordable Housing Committee Chair, at 478-972-0517, or Association Executive Sandy Davis, at 478-471-7336.   

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The Experienced San Fran REALTORS® Defeat Mission Moratorium

One sure way to exacerbate the already steep housing challenges in San Francisco would have been a 30-month moratorium on new development in the Mission District, where housing inventory is low, and in increasingly high demand.  Using an Issues Mobilization grant from the National Association of REALTORS® for the second time in as many years, the 4,600-member San Francisco Association of REALTORS® (SFAR) convinced voters to thwart the threatened ‘Mission Moratorium’ in November.

The city’s infamous affordability crisis has been brought about, in part, by decades of low housing production, explains Jay Cheng, SFAR’s Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations.  In the historically working-class Mission District, the situation is complicated by issues of gentrification.  Ironically, last year’s proposed moratorium backed by far-left housing activists threatened not only to further displace long-term residents, but it would actually have cut off affordable housing funding that is supported by fees from market-value housing projects in the district. 

The back-to-back timing of SFAR’s two issues campaigns increased the association’s sophistication and impact the second time around, notes Cheng.  In 2014, it had defeated a proposed additional transfer tax with an energetic, multilingual campaign and get-out-the-vote effort, completely funded by the REALTORS®.  “Thanks to our success with the transfer tax campaign, we were able to build a strong coalition to help fight the moratorium.  We leveraged the generous grants we received from the REALTOR® Party and our state association to secure sizeable financial support from our coalition partners.  For both campaigns, we received tremendous help and guidance from NAR’s amazing team.” 

SFAR’s anti-moratorium coalition reached voters through direct mail and online advertising, a paid social media campaign, and cable and broadcast television advertising; then door-to-door canvassing and live phone banks.  A big push in the second phase of the campaign sought to persuade swing voters, notably among San Francisco’s strong Chinese and LGBT communities.  The Inter-board Solicitation Program of the California Association of REALTORS® helped get the campaign past the finish line, funding the last television advertising salvo with help from boards all over the state.  “It’s fantastic, the way these contributions of $1,000 and $5,000 can add up to so much, and have such an impact,” says Cheng.    

He also notes that in San Francisco, politics are a ground game.  “We respect the street fighters!” he laughs, adding seriously that the city’s voters are extremely sophisticated.  “If you don’t knock on their door and explain your position on the issue, you won’t have their respect—and you’ll hear about it.”  That’s where SFAR’s 400 volunteers made the difference, putting in 3,000 volunteer-hours reaching out to the voting public. 

With the power of the REALTOR® Party behind them, those member volunteers were working to protect their livelihood: the number of SFAR members able to work as active REALTORS® in the Mission would certainly be limited by a moratorium like the one that was on the ballot.  “As much as we’re trying to help our members today,” adds Cheng, “we need to be thinking long-term.  We need to have enough product for our members to work with, to ensure a sustainable future for real estate.” 

SFAR and its coalition defeated the Mission Moratorium with 14.4% of the vote in an election with a fairly high turn-out, but plenty of work remains ahead.  “When you’re talking about housing in San Francisco,” says Cheng, “this campaign is just the last maneuver in an ongoing battle.  We have to keep at it, to solve the problems and move our city forward.”  To that end, Cheng serves on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, which convenes parties on all sides of the issue to sit down together to find lasting, viable housing solutions for San Francisco.

To learn more about how the San Francisco REALTORS® defeated the threatened Mission Moratorium, contact Jay Cheng, Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS®, at 408-691-0423.

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In Atlanta, Chili and RPAC Go Hand-in-Hand

Sometimes a great cup of chili is just a great cup of chili; but for the Atlanta Board of REALTORS® (ABR) these past four years, it’s been the means of attracting increasing levels of investment in the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC)—and an increasingly good time!

Since 2012, the 5,700-member board’s event calendar has featured a Chili Cook Off for RPAC investment.  What began as a modest event with modest expectations has exploded into a rollicking sell-out party with eager sponsors (like the local Gordon Biersch Brewery) and a waiting list to enter the friendly competition. As Lorieal Green, ABR’s 2015 Governmental Affairs Committee Chair, explains, “Because I served on NAR’s Housing Opportunity Committee, I already knew the impact receiving a grant could have.  The 2015 RPAC Fundraising Grant helped move this event above and beyond what we had achieved in the past.  It was a perfect storm of great people working together on innovative ideas with extra funding to ensure those ideas would come to life. And fortunately, the weather cooperated!”  Indeed, the early November rain stopped just in time for tents, booths, and tables to be set up in the parking lot of the ABR campus, ready to welcome 30 chili teams and more than 360 hungry and discriminating chili “judges.” 

By the end of the evening, ABR had raised more than $20,000 for RPAC: $5,000 beyond its goal, and more than twice what it had in previous years, with nearly twice the attendance.  Team entrance fees were scaled according to booth location, and all the most desirable spots sold out first.  Each admission ticket came with three tokens to vote for the Best Chili, and additional tokens were available for purchase.  The Best Booth was determined by anonymous judges who roamed the event, secretly assessing each team’s creative efforts. 

Michael Fischer, who chaired last year’s Fundraising Sub-Committee of the Governmental Affairs Committee and serves as ABR’s current GAC chair, describes the Chili Cook Off as a celebratory event in the RPAC calendar, one that is lots of fun and not so high-pressure.  “Our goal for the 2015 Chili Cook Off was to continue growing the event, capping off our successful year with a final fundraising push.  For 2016, our focus will be on ramping up public relations, so we can better disseminate our purpose and goals to the membership,” he says, noting that, “Though it’s an internal event, we’ve got teams and sponsors from all over the industry, from lending institutions to law firms to foundation water-proofers: the Best Booth last year went to a pest control company.”  The challenge he faces in increasing attendance is not interest—word spreads fast!—but venue capacity and parking.  He’s considering having a shuttle run from a local elementary school to handle the overflow at the upcoming October 27 event.  

In 2015, the $5,000 RPAC Fundraising Grant from the REALTOR® Party provided major donor recognition in the form of personalized beer steins that were presented along with the Cook Off Awards, a DJ who kept up a lively beat and a videographer who captured all the good times and good taste of the evening.  “The video has been a really important take-away, and a great PR piece,” says Fischer.  “We’ve been able to leverage the footage in so many ways.”  Jen Booth, ABR’s Public Relations/Board Services Coordinator couldn’t agree more.  “I love having this video,” she says.  “We screen it as part of a continual loop on the TVs in our lobby, and at New Member Orientations.  Anytime people are in the seats in our classrooms, we’ve got it playing on the A/V system.  It shows members and industry colleagues having fun, networking and investing in RPAC all at the same time.”   The video is featured on a dedicated “Chili Cook Off” page on the ABR website, a platform for event publicity and information.

Governmental Affairs Director Robert Broome points out that in terms of having developed a fundraising event that is truly fun for all, the ABR Chili Cook Off is wildly successful.  “The excitement and attention translates into more members understanding the importance of RPAC to the real estate industry, so the long term benefit is huge.”

2015 ABR CHILI COOKOFF from James Futch on Vimeo.

Watch the video at: https://vimeo.com/148755063?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=28749, and to learn more about how the Atlanta Board of REALTORS® is cooking up red-hot results for RPAC, contact Governmental Affairs Director Robert Broome at 404-732-0631.

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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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Heartland Association’s (IL) Land Use Analysis Guides Local Development Ordinance

When McHenry County, a suburban and rural district just northwest of Chicago, rolled out the first draft of its Unified Development Ordinance in April 2014, the Heartland REALTOR® Organization (HRO) rolled up its sleeves and got out its red pencil—so to speak.  Actually, all it had to do was apply for a Land Use Initiative review, and within short order, expert legal guidance was brought to bear on the document that would be governing the growth of the county’s unincorporated areas through 2030. 

According to Conor Brown, Government Affairs Director of the 1,000-member association, the application process was simple and straightforward, and the resulting review was extremely beneficial.  His organization’s Government Affairs Committee was most concerned about two sections in the proposed ordinance having to do with the development of future subdivisions, an issue complicated by the county’s vast disparity in density, with mostly rural land in the west, and highly populated suburbs in the east.

In an initial conference call with Robinson & Cole, the law firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® to undertake ordinance reviews, Brown provided background and an overview of relevant local politics.  “It was a very collaborative process throughout,” he says.  “After all, they didn’t want to produce a document I couldn’t use, or that wouldn’t have value to our members.” 

Robinson & Cole read through the several-hundred page draft ordinance with a particular focus on the two articles governing subdivision applications and standards, and returned a 15-page report providing a concise analysis of the sections, and recommended revisions.  “They identified multiple issues that were problematic, whether just plain vague and inefficient, or overly restrictive regarding property rights,” says Brown.  The report offered clear guidance and concrete examples from a neighboring county, which elected officials of McHenry County would find relevant, he notes.        

When Brown received the report, he delivered it directly to Joe Gottemoller, who was Chairman of the county’s Planning & Development Committee at the time, and has since been named Chairman of the full County Board.  “Joe is an attorney, and an elected official we’ve supported through RPAC,” says Brown.  “There’s always been a great professional rapport between him and our association, and he didn’t need to be told how to use the report: it was like being a quarterback handing the ball off to our star running back!”  Gottemoller relied on the Robinson & Cole analysis as he guided the draft ordinance through a grueling review and modification process, weathering dozens of proposed amendments.  It was finally approved six months later. 

What HRO achieved through the Land Use Initiative review, says Brown, is an ordinance that is more consistent; preserves responsible development rights; streamlines the development process; and limits regulatory burdens.  In short, “We left it a whole lot better than we found it!” he says, adding, “I would encourage any local REALTOR® association to leverage this resource, particularly if they don’t have access to good legal research.”

To learn more about how the Heartland REALTOR® Organization has contributed to local planning and development policy in McHenry County, Illinois, by making use of the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative program, contact its Government Affairs Director, Conor Brown, at cbrown@iar.org or 815-319-0943.

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Montgomery AL REALTORS® Knock on 24,000 Doors to Help Re-Elect Their Champion for Mayor

The 1,000-member Montgomery (AL) Area Association of REALTORS® had nothing against any of the five candidates running in the mayoral election this past summer.  But there was only one they knew would offer them a seat at the table where pressing budget issues and property rights decisions are concerned. They put together a bold and energetic ground campaign – including knocking on nearly 24,000 doors – to help re-elect their REALTOR® Champion.

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Washington State REALTORS® Fight Two Tax Proposals and Win!

When small businesses and second home owners became targets for major tax hikes in their state, Washington REALTORS® jumped into action.  Through a multi-faceted campaign called “Recover Washington” the 17,500-member association was able to defeat a 20 percent increase in the gross receipts tax paid by REALTORS®, as well as a 7 percent capital gains tax on investment properties and second homes.

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Houston REALTORS® Host Forum to Help Voters Get to Know Mayoral Candidates

Houston is looking for a new mayor, and there are seven major candidates vying for the job.  Supported by a grant from NAR, the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) held a forum to help members and the voting public sort them out. In addition to its own membership, HAR opened the guest list to like-minded business groups, and about half of the Houston City Council was in attendance, as well.

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Las Vegas REALTORS® Grow New Leaders Across Ethnic Lines

The Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS® (GLVAR) does more than talk about embracing cultural differences, it is actually doing something to grow future leaders from diverse backgrounds. The 11,700-member association is drawing local minority real estate partners to their successful Leadership Training Series.  As a result, many of these minority practitioners have gone on to become association committee chairs and a few have seats on the Board of Directors.

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