The REALTOR® Party is known for its stellar advocacy work. But this arm of the National Association of REALTORS® also uplifts communities directly, funding local REALTOR® associations’ initiatives from smart growth to placemaking. Now, through a new program, Transforming Neighborhoods, NAR is partnering with The Counselors of Real Estate to give local associations access to that group’s Consulting Corps.
The CRE Consulting Corps provides real estate analysis and action plans for municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, government entities, educational institutions, and other owners of real property. One recent Consulting Corps engagement, in the central Illinois city of Peoria, demonstrates how the program can strengthen ties between REALTORS® and local decision-makers and stakeholders.
The opportunity: In the 61605 ZIP code—an area where the median home value is under $44,000 and the median household income is under $20,000—the city was aiming to tear down two former school buildings that had sat vacant for decades. Could the Transforming Neighborhoods program help bring about the area’s economic revitalization? The Peoria Area Association of REALTORS® pitched the idea to Mayor Rita Ali and then submitted a proposal to NAR for CRE Consulting Corps consideration. The proposal was selected in late May 2022, and work began almost immediately, culminating in an onsite visit by the Consulting Corps team in October.
Preparation: “We laid a lot of groundwork in advance of the Consulting Corps team’s visit,” says PAAR CEO Jennifer Hamm. “Over the years, we had cultivated relationships with elected officials and community partners. We invited their participation to make sure the project got off on the right foot and that we didn’t waste a single minute that the team was with us. We had 60 stakeholder participants, including city officials and staff, representatives from the housing authority, the school district, the police department, clergy, social service organizations, REALTOR® members, and more, all fully engaged in the process.”
The way forward: Wendy Timm, CRE, a native Peorian, was team leader on the engagement. During a weeklong visit, Consulting Corps team members toured the sites, met with the stakeholders in small groups, asked questions and listened. They capped off the visit with initial recommendations that included capturing local pride to create a new brand identity for each site; leveraging the city’s new homeownership program to spur investment and get lenders to the table; and developing rental housing, including affordable senior housing, with integrated neighborhood services. A detailed report from the team is now in the works, and demolition of the buildings was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2023.