Washington REALTORS

Spokane REALTORS® Spur Much-Needed Housing Development with Pro-Growth Candidates

In Spokane, Washington, the inventory of available housing stock is at its lowest point ever in city records; housing prices have seen double-digit increases in recent years; and apartment vacancy is below 2%. In the midst of the crisis, the Spokane Association of REALTORS® recognized an opportunity to tackle the barriers to creating more housing:  they championed a challenger to the mayor’s office, as well as five candidates for the City Council, hoping to dislodge the long-entrenched incumbent politicians who were decidedly anti-growth. With help from the REALTOR® Party, they ran six independent expenditure campaigns, winning four – including the mayoral race.

Tom Hormel, a Spokane REALTOR® who is the current Washington state RPAC Committee Chair and incoming president of Washington REALTORS®, was spokesperson for the efforts. “NAR’s help was instrumental in the recent success in the mayoral race in Spokane,” he says. “They not only provided monetary assistance, but the polling and planning help they provided made a huge impact. We could not have been as successful without their assistance.”

For Darin Watkins, Spokane REALTORS®’ Government Affairs Director, it was trial-by-fire.  After only a few months on the job early last year, his Association Executive, Rob Higgins, had suggested he attend the AE Institute, where he learned about all the various programs and resources of the REALTOR® Party. “They really are interested in affecting politics at the local grassroots level,” he says. “They understood the reality that, in places like Spokane, there isn’t a single social issue that doesn’t involve housing, from job stability to the public schools.” A single conversation with NAR staff set the plan for the independent expenditure campaigns in motion.

Watkins received great support from the state association, which handled all the disclosure filings and made sure that the Spokane Association was in compliance with all the rules associated with independent expenditure campaigns–which can be complicated. He is especially grateful for advice from Nathan Gorton, the state GAD, who urged him to draft talking points early on.  “These became our playbook, because the campaigns were about ideas and issues, not about candidates.”  In fact, the candidates backed by the REALTORS® were from both sides of the aisle, and were carefully vetted by a bipartisan team of Spokane REALTOR® interviewers. Nadine Woodward, the successful mayoral candidate, had actually attended the REALTORS®Candidate Training Academy a few years earlier. “When asked how she would solve the housing crisis,” reports Watkins, “she said she didn’t have the answers, but she would form a task force and wanted REALTORS® to be on it. That was what we needed to know.”

Support from the REALTOR® Party began with polling to devise strategies and develop messaging, then extended to creating mailers and digital advertising, all of it positive. When some of their candidates’ opponents began crying ‘foul’ over a national organization being involved in local elections, the REALTOR® Party quickly produced a cartoon counter-ad, strategically placed in local media to address the negative messages directly. Ground teams of door-knockers and email and text-alert campaigns helped drive voters to the polls.

“There’s no question, it was a real sleigh ride!” admits Watkins. “But I’d urge other local boards not to be scared off. The tools that NAR has are very effective, and their team did so much of the heavy lifting. We always felt that we were in the driver’s seat, but they definitely took a lot of the stress out of running six independent expenditure campaigns.” The results – including a brand new mayor – are going to make a pivotal change for Spokane, he says.

To learn more about how the Spokane REALTORS® are working to elect officials who will seek ways to create much-needed housing in their city, contact Darin Watkins, Government Affairs Director, at 509-326-9222.

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Washington REALTORS® Campaign for Affordable Housing Legislation

REALTORS® in Washington state knew that access to affordable housing at all income levels was being hampered by lack of inventory, and that not just one, but a whole slew of legislative hurdles was in the way of creating more. With the help of an Issues Mobilization Grant, they mounted a persuasive campaign called Unlock the Door for Affordable Homeownership, urging residents to contact their legislators in support of a bundle of bills aimed at increasing the state’s housing stock.

Unlock the Door was driven by a strong coalition of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, with the REALTORS® at the forefront, explains Nathan Gorton, the Washington Association of REALTORS®’ (WAR) Government Affairs Director. Comprising groups from across the housing industry, the coalition is united in the belief that housing is all about supply-and-demand, and that a weak supply hurts everyone. “It affects people in all income levels, including homeowners trying to sell their houses – from move-up young families to empty-nesters to retirees,” says Gorton, “and part of our task was making sure the legislature understood that continuum, and what it means for the state’s economy. On the other side of the coin, building the campaign forced us to take a closer look at government subsidized housing, and its place in the puzzle. There was a lot of learning going on, on both sides,” he gamely admits.

“The fact is, there was no single silver-bullet bill that we could have brought to the legislature that would result in more homes coming on the marketplace,” he continues. “It was closer to twenty.  So, we bundled them together in four categories – Funding for Local Governments; Increased Housing Supply & Density for Market-Rate and Affordable Housing; Incentives for Affordable & Low-Income Housing; and Regulatory & Liability Reforms – and got to work seeking public support.”

Unlock the Door was a robust media campaign, including broadcast and cable TV, radio, and digital ads, featuring real-life stories submitted by members of WAR about the challenges and frustrations of Washington residents shut out of the housing market.

It was an absolute home-run of a campaign, reports Washington REALTORS® President, Dale Chumbley, who led a near-record crowd of just over 500 members to the state capitol in January for “WR Hill Day”. “The whole tone was positive, pro-active, and upbeat. We went into the legislature saying: ‘We all know this is a problem; here’s who the coalition is; here are our solutions.’” And the legislature was ready to listen. Polling showed significant public concern about the level of affordable housing in the state, and the coalition had done its homework, meeting issues of concern with draft legislation. Only one significant bill of 18 on the Unlock the Door docket failed to pass, a measure attempting to extend a tax exemption program for affordable multifamily housing. The coalition is already planning to try again next year.

A survey of WR members toward the end of the campaign revealed an 84% awareness of the effort, the sort of recognition that could normally take years to achieve, according to the consultant on the project. “Not only was it a huge success legislatively,” says Gorton, “it was a huge success for our members, and for homeowners and aspiring homeowners in Washington state: a real triumph, all around!”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Washington state have been taking a big-picture approach to overcoming the challenges of affordable housing, contact Nathan Gorton, Government Affairs Director of the Washington REALTORS® at 360-943-3100.

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