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West Central Minnesota REALTORS® Help to House the Homeless

The REALTORS® of West Central Minnesota believe it’s important for everyone to have a home, and that doesn’t always mean homeownership. Late in 2016, the 398-member board received a Housing Opportunity Grant that it used to partner with the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (CoC), a clearinghouse of resources and aid for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Thanks to a new system the grant has been promoting, a total of 72 new households have been established in the region, including at least 16 with school-age children.

It all began, says Sue Blumhoefer, Chief Executive Officer of the West Central Association of REALTORS® (WCAR), when one of its members, who serves on the board of the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care (CoC), wondered if there was a REALTOR® Party grant that could help support the work of the regional aid organization. Blumhoefer investigated, and met with the CoC to determine how possible funding assistance from the REALTORS® could best meet its needs. With guidance from Christine Berger, the Minnesota REALTORS®‘ Vice President of Political Affairs, and the staff at NAR, WCAR applied for and received a Housing Opportunity Grant to promote and help implement the CoC’s new Coordinated Entry System.

This initiative, explains Blumhoefer, streamlines, standardizes, and shares information among the 20 separate agencies within the Southwest Minnesota CoC, which spans 18 different counties. “When a person or family is homeless or about to become homeless, they receive an intake assessment to be considered for all potential housing assistance from all CoC agencies. This will keep clients from having to go from agency to agency seeking help and having to go through a different assessment at each one. It also helps to match clients with the most appropriate assistance based on their level of need.”

The Housing Opportunity Grant, together with a contribution from WCAR, was put to work informing the public in the region about the new Coordinated Entry System. A new website, posters, and brochures in four languages, newspaper and billboard advertising, and a radio spot recorded by WCAR’s President Ann Anderson, got the word out:  to date, the combined efforts of WCAR and the Southwest Continuum of Care have helped create 72 stable households for clients in a previous state of homelessness. The funding from the REALTORS® also supported a training event for those performing the new assessments, and provided starter kits for clients, containing Walmart gift cards for basic household supplies.

“This means stability for those housed, which means better school outcomes for the kids, better chances at finding work, and generally better health outcomes,” says Blumhoefer, noting that, “Ultimately, the goal is the get them to a point where they will be strong enough to move to homeownership.”

One 19-year old who was assessed by the new program had been couch-hopping, spending nights in Walmart and Cashwise, and was housed in a hotel a couple of times.   He recently received keys to his own apartment, and with his gift card, was able to buy a shower curtain, garbage can, dish soap, broom/dustpan, bathroom rug, cooking pot, paper goods, and an oven mitt.  “How awesome is it to know we helped from day one with the program used to qualify him, and then, made sure he had some basics to set up a home,” says Blumhoefer.

Now that it’s in place, the system the Housing Opportunity Grant helped fund will continue to help those in need in the 18-county area, and the REALTORS® are maintaining an ongoing partnership with the CoC, sponsoring community immunization fairs and a cell phone drive for senior clients.  Says Blumhoefer, “We definitely couldn’t have done this without the grant from NAR!”

To learn more about how the West Central Association of REALTORS® is working to get all its neighbors into stable housing situations, contact Chief Executive Officer Sue Blumhoefer at 320-235-6881.

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Partnership Spurs Diversity for the Grosse Pointe REALTORS®

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a high school in the affluent, nearly all-white Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. At the anniversary event this March memorializing King’s “The Other America” speech, the Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® (GPBR) will be among many in the community marking Grosse Pointe’s progress toward diversification and social equality. It will also be a time to provide thinking about what remains to be done.

According to Bob Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the almost 1,000-member board, this is not an interest that gets dusted off for special occasions, just as Fair Housing is not something that the board saves for the month of April. “Promoting diversity and equal opportunity is a mindset. We’ve internalized it, so that it impacts all our decisions and  thinking,” he says.  He credits an exceptionally engaged and focused Fair Housing & Diversity Committee, led for four years by Ursel Mayo, with bringing about this change.  Supported by a Board of Directors led this year by Lori Jaglois and last year by Mario Como, Fair Housing & Diversity are part of the board’s daily consciousness.

“We wanted to have constructive conversation, provide insight, and eliminate ‘if we’re talking about Fair Housing it must be April’ thinking,” explains Jaglois. “Consequently, we no longer have ‘Fair Housing Month’ recognition. Instead, there’s a dedicated “Fair Housing” component at each of our four yearly membership meetings.” GPBR offers the NAR’s “At Home With Diversity” certification class annually, in the past using REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grants to keep the cost down. Jaglois is proud to note that attendance is always robust: the last class, taught by Mayo, had upwards of 40 participants. Twice in the last four years, GPBR also offered the REALTOR® Party’s “Leading With Diversity” program. Most recently, the Detroit Association of REALTORS® was a co-host, with Fred Underwood from the National Association of REALTORS® and Dr. Agustin V. Arbulu, the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, co- presenting.

A new GPBR initiative called “All in for Diversity” available to members for a small contribution, allows those who want to bolster funding specifically for diversity projects to do so. In 2017, the board partnered with the Grosse Pointe Public School System to produce a calendar celebrating diversity as seen through the eyes of the community’s K-12 school children. The project generated more than sixty submissions, thirteen of which the GPBR jury selected to feature on the handsomely produced calendar. It was offered for sale to the membership and to families in the school system, with all proceeds going to the schools for further diversity efforts.

Rebecca Fannon, a representative of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, can’t say enough about the REALTORS®‘ involvement in strengthening the community: “The Grosse Pointe Board of REALTORS® has been an amazing partner with the school system over the years, promoting the area with community open houses, and assisting in projects coordinated by the local Chamber of Commerce. The Diversity Calendar project took this partnership one step further. Our school system was honored to participate, and so grateful that the proceeds from the calendar sales were donated to continued implementation of the district’s diversity initiatives outlined in our Strategic Plan.”

GPBR has close ties with the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, and plans to begin working with them, and other diversity groups in the area, to strengthen efforts that support diversity and inclusion. “If we can share resources like Placemaking Grants and Housing Opportunity training with groups that share our interests, then that moves everybody forward,” says Taylor.

In 2017, Ursel Mayo, a long time member of the GPBR’s Board of Directors, was selected to be President-elect for 2018, the first African American to hold that position.  Is that because the Board wanted a person of color at the forefront?  “I don’t believe color had anything to do with the decision” says Taylor.  “The Board of Directors felt she was the very best person for the job, and she happens to be African-American.” Our goal is to seek those who are most passionate about serving our members, and encourage them to be in leadership.  President Jaglois, herself a tremendous leader, urged Ursel to consider the role.  We are extremely fortunate to have this kind of thoughtful and focused leadership.  It’s the reason this board is making a difference in Grosse Pointe — and beyond.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Grosse Pointe, Michigan are taking a leadership role in promoting diversity in their community, contact Chief Executive Officer Bob Taylor, at 313-882-8000 x3.

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