With rent control proposals popping up around the country and property-rights restrictions making it difficult to fill the demand for homes, REALTOR® associations are mobilizing their members and winning allies for proactive solutions to America’s housing crisis.
In the past year, they have defeated a burdensome real estate transfer tax, halted restrictive zoning, developed free fair housing educational tools and, in Florida, won a statewide rent-control ban balanced with common-sense housing solutions.
These REALTOR® associations designed effective, targeted campaigns by augmenting their own government affairs and communications expertise with customized National Association of REALTORS® resources. By rallying members, community allies and partners, they are positioning REALTORS® as champions of thriving communities, providing access to affordable homes for everyone.
Contra Costa Association of REALTORS®
Fighting a Real Estate Transfer Tax
In California’s famously unaffordable Bay Area, officials in the small city of Hercules proposed a real estate transfer tax to refill public coffers drained by the COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership from the Contra Costa Association of REALTORS® helped defeat the levy on buyers and sellers while successfully advocating for adoption of a more equitable solution.
With help from the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere services, CCAR honed its messaging. Transfer taxes add to the cost of home sales, and the burden falls on a select group of homebuyers and sellers, CCAR argued. The funds, which rise and fall with the real estate market, also don’t supply steady revenue.
“No one gets the money back,” says Heather Schiffman, RCE, CCAR government affairs director. “It’s not a tax write-off. It doesn’t get refunded to them in any aspect, and in California, in the Bay Area, nothing’s cheap.”
Meanwhile, city polling revealed that Hercules residents supported the more equitable approach of raising the user utility tax they were already paying for communications, electric and gas services. Raising an existing tax—one paid by and benefiting all residents—was an easier ask than launching a new tax, CCAR argued.
Advocacy Everywhere also provided messaging suitable for social media and direct contacts to mobilize real estate agents in Hercules and a neighboring municipality.
On the night of the city council vote, real estate agents and constituents filled the audience, holding small signs saying, “No Real Estate Transfer Tax. Yes on User Utility.” Impressed by the turnout, a wavering city council member cast an opposing vote, and the proposal failed, 3–2. Later, an overwhelming 70% of Hercules residents approved a user utility tax hike.
“For those who have been dreaming of purchasing that home, we’ve kept that ability for them to do it by not adding additional taxes or burdens,” says Schiffman. “Keeping housing as affordable as possible, even though it is the state of California, is still better than completely pushing people with limited means out of the market.”
Opposing Rent Control Statewide
In Florida’s Orange County in 2022, officials rejected the advice of their own consultants and put a rent-control measure on the ballot. Florida REALTORS® led opposition to the measure, which passed at the ballot box but was ultimately blocked by state courts.
In warding off the possibility of similar measures in other regions, Florida REALTORS® led the successful effort to ban rent-control policies statewide while incentivizing affordable housing and zoning relief.
For Florida REALTORS®, the key to success was “unity within the membership to prohibit these harmful policies in the state,” says CEO Margy Grant, RCE, CAE. “This unity was achieved by involving members in the process early on and educating them on the damaging effects of rent control.”
A strong partnership with the Florida Apartment Association also provided momentum. The partnership helped share costs and gave Florida REALTORS® “a stronger story to tell when speaking with lawmakers on the matter.”
Issues Mobilization funding from NAR provided crucial support along two key avenues. The funds financed the voter campaign strategy that helped defeat the referendum and kick-started the effort to achieve a statewide ban. They also enabled a study examining the potential harm of rent-control policies in regions throughout Florida. Commissioned in mid-2022, results arrived just in time for lawmakers convening for the 2023 legislative session.
“You could almost see the shock on some of their faces as we walked them through the economic loss that could occur, including the decline in available affordable housing, lost jobs and the decline of the local GDP,” says Grant.
Throughout the campaign, Florida REALTORS® leveraged its most powerful message: that rent control actually decreases the long-term availability of affordable housing inventory as it chases away developers who can’t recoup their investments.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the resulting Live Local Act into law on March 29 this year. While prohibiting rent controls, the law provides record levels of funding for housing solutions, expands the Hometown Heroes Housing Program for frontline workers, offers tax incentives and credits for private investment in affordable rental housing, and eases local restrictions on construction of affordable housing.
Florida REALTORS® will remain involved in educating clients and business associates on the Live Local Act’s benefits, says Grant. Prohibiting rent control, she adds, “is pro-affordable housing.”
“Rent control decreases the supply of available affordable housing, and it diminishes the effectiveness of these programs,” she adds. “By opposing rent control, REALTORS® are helping proven affordable housing policies succeed. We should not conclude that these two issues are exclusive of the other.”
Long Island Board of REALTORS®
Raising Public Awareness of Fair Housing
Long Island Board of REALTORS® is on a mission to make sure everyone understands their fair housing rights and obligations.
In 2019, New York state outlawed housing discrimination based on source of income—including vouchers, unemployment, child support, GI Bill funds and more. A few months later, Newsday’s scorching exposé of modern redlining and discriminatory lending in the Long Island housing market turned the spotlight on residential steering. However, that story didn’t divert LIBOR from starting its Home for All of Us fair housing campaign in 2022 with a focus on source of income.
“Source of income became our first campaign because we know that it did not get the attention it needs,” says Tessa Hultz, RCE, CAE, the former CEO of LIBOR.
Home for All of Us raises awareness about fair housing while zeroing in on specific issues. For 2023, LIBOR will add discrimination based on disability as a campaign focus.
Intended targets include nonmember real estate licensees in LIBOR territory, because “if they’re going to practice in our market, it’s better to teach them,” Hultz said in May.
Home sellers and buyers are also targeted, she added, because “the public is absolutely just as liable to abide by fair housing laws but has no educational requirements, no licensing requirements.”
LIBOR’s fair housing team—including staff from government affairs, communications, legal and social media—developed the messaging. On the Home for All of Us website (homeforallofus.org), state-agnostic one-page flyers outline the protected classes in housing sales and rentals, plus potential penalties for fair housing violations.
With their small-print reference to LIBOR, the flyers are meant to be co-branded. “Take it, steal it, use it,” says Hultz, who suggests that real estate agencies make it office policy to include the flyer in every listing packet “so you know every single seller working with your agents has been faced with this document telling them what their obligations are.”
The pandemic-era eviction moratorium gave LIBOR a chance to change the dialogue around source of income, as many landlords collecting reliable income were those with housing-voucher tenants. Working with partners in fair housing organizations, LIBOR refined a list of the benefits of accepting voucher clients.
Partnering organizations may have different missions, but all share an end goal and, as a result, enjoy working together, says Hultz. A rise in source of income violation complaints underscores the need for education on conveying property on a nondiscriminatory basis.
“We need to teach everybody, and that means the public,” she says. “That means the property managers, that means the nonmembers and that means the members—because this is the law, and people are getting it wrong.”
East Tennessee REALTORS®
Winning Against Restrictive Rezoning
Before Blount County, Tenn., commissioners voted on a restrictive rezoning proposal, East Tennessee REALTORS® was told not to bother showing up because the “yes” vote was locked in. “Lo and behold, it failed on a 10–10 vote,” says Government Affairs and Policy Director Hancen Sale. “It was a surprise and a huge win for the real estate industry and home ownership and housing.”
In fast-growing, inventory-scarce Blount County, rezoning proposals to increase minimum lot sizes and eliminate unit and cluster development threatened to reduce housing density by 75%. The proposal also could have damaged the property rights of farm owners.
ETR “cross-pollinated” NAR resources to develop messaging and build a show of opposition, Sale says. Submitting the proposal and ETR’s own research to the NAR Land Use Initiative yielded detailed analysis into the proposal’s impact, helped shape talking points and led to the campaign slogan, “Blount County Has a Lot to Lose: Keep Housing Affordable.”
Inspired by NAR’s Double Trouble affordability report, ETR put a human face on household income numbers by comparing the county’s 300 home listings with job postings and salaries for essential but scarce workers such as new teachers and sheriffs’ deputies. The question became, “Can the people who keep your community safe afford to live here?”
Social media and online advertising raised public awareness among residents, who were encouraged to contact their elected officials through a website created for the campaign.
Members received numerous emails and texts through the REALTOR® Party’s Mobile Alerts program, and they spoke at public hearings.
“I like to say we utilized nearly every potential resource available from NAR,” says Sale. “We were able to pack a county courthouse meeting room with dozens of REALTORS® wearing REALTOR® blue in support of the cause.”
The campaign deepened ETR’s relationships with elected officials and community organizations, and all are now collaborating on “common-ground solutions” that keep the community desirable while promoting affordable housing.
“We’re staying engaged,” says Sale. “We recognize that it’s not something that’s over and done with.”