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.