How Brokers Can Work to Alleviate Affordability Issues in Their Communities

Brokers and their agents know first-hand how affordability issues plague their individual communities and can offer unique and necessary solutions.
Vector image of a real estate professional holding a pencil in front of a house that's shaped like a calculator

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Nowadays, the affordable housing crisis is in constant circulation in the news. Low inventory, high real estate prices, and economic turbulence add to the issue, and while many experts offer large-scale solutions that will take time and resources, real estate professionals are uniquely positioned to make change at the local level.

Brokers are in many cases community experts. They and their agents are on the front lines of the issue and tend to have a unique understanding of what their individual communities need. Brokers who get involved at the local, county and state levels offer an important perspective and unique solutions the housing affordability issues.

Using ADUs to Increase Housing Options in Maine

In Maine, lack of affordable housing is considered a “dire situation,” says Matthew Pouliot, broker-owner of Pouliot Real Estate in Augusta, Maine.

Also, a state senator since 2018, Pouliot joined the LD 2003 Commission, which was formed to help assess where zoning and land use restrictions could ease or change to make way for new housing. If passed, LD 2003 would require state lawmakers to “implement the recommendations of the commission to increase housing opportunities in Maine by studying zoning and land use restrictions.”

The commission focused on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). An ADU, according to the American Planning Association, is a smaller, independent residential dwelling unit located on the same lot as a stand-alone (i.e., detached) single-family home. The LD 2003 Commission argued that allowing for homeowners to build up to four of these units on their property would help the local affordable housing crisis by increasing the overall number of units available.

LD 2003 passed in 2022. The law reduces the red tape and building permit headaches that once existed. Affordable housing is creating complex issues in his community, Pouliot says. There are long waitlists for affordable apartments, and some businesses report that prospective employees are rejecting jobs based on a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Pouliot believes this law has the potential to help those searching for affordable housing and the homeowners who build and rent out the ADUs. Maine has a large retiree community, many of whom are on a fixed income. The new law would provide a way to bring in extra money.

Pouliot wasn’t the only real estate professional on the LD 2003 commission. Madeleine Hill, who served as 2022 President of the Maine Association of Realtors and is the designated broker at Roxanne York Real Estate, participated on the commission by studying zoning and land use restrictions on behalf of the association.

“We desperately need housing supply, and this new law should spur small-scale housing development in areas where housing is already allowed, in every municipality all across our beautiful state,” she says.

Hill is designated broker at Roxanne York Real Estate and understands that local knowledge is not only necessary but invaluable when it comes to understanding how the law relates to ADUs in Maine, which real estate agents will need to understand.

Helping College Students Find Housing in Florida

Since the start pandemic-fueled, domestic migration, one state stands out: Florida. Data from the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research department show that the population has grown at an average of 1.67% year over year since April 2020, an increase of nearly 1.1 million people.

Growth isn’t expected to slow, either. The state projects that Florida’s population will continue to grow from April 2023 through April 2027 by approximately 834 people per day, effectively “adding a city about the size of Orlando every year.”

The population increase has taken a toll on the many groups of Florida’s population who require affordable housing opportunities, including college students.

An increase in enrollment coupled with a few dormitories under renovation has created a waitlist for student housing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. The school offered a stipend to students to help them pay for expensive off-campus living, but students came up against a couple of issues: the stipend didn’t cover the increasing rent prices and oftentimes, the students couldn’t find any available housing at all.

When Rennai Kelly, broker-owner at Regal Homes in Tallahassee, found out about this situation, she knew she needed to help. Kelly is a short-term rental specialist and owns an apartment building that could help in this emergency.

Kelly provided housing for eight Florida A&M University students when she learned of the issue, but she recognizes that one person can’t solve this systemic issue.

“We have 800 short-term rentals in this area, but 5,000 people who need housing. It doesn’t make a dent on what needs to happen next,” she says.

She continues to advocate for expanding housing in her area and helping people understand how to build generational wealth. She teaches classes including one on fixing up and flipping homes, one on using Airbnbs to make money, one for first-time homebuyers and one that explains the ins and outs of real estate investing.

“There are a lot of programs out there with generic counseling. But I teach them how to get there,” she adds. “You have to teach them how to fish.”

Giving the Homeless a Chance for a Better Life

During the polar vortex of 2019, when temperatures reached below 23 degrees in Chicago, Candice Payne, broker-owner at 5th Group, charged the cost of 30 hotel rooms to her personal credit card to house people who were experiencing homelessness. Word of her efforts traveled through social media, and soon enough, her story appeared in national headlines. She was even invited to the Ellen DeGeneres show and received $50,000 from Wal-Mart to continue helping those experiencing homelessness.

“I was shocked. I thought I was just going on the show to talk about what I had done,” she adds.

Payne’s boyfriend experienced homelessness for a while, so she understands the viscous cycle that plagues those experiencing homelessness.

“People think they are lazy, but they want jobs. They show up. What people don’t understand is that most people are just one paycheck away from being homeless,” says Payne.

Payne uses her position in real estate to take a multi-faceted approach to ending homelessness in Chicago. She took the money from Wal-Mart and donated it to her nonprofit Action for a Cause. At the time she’d created the nonprofit, she wasn’t clear on its direction, but helping people during the polar vortex and receiving the money from Wal-Mart clarified things for her. She wanted to focus on paving a way for the homeless to find shelter, work and get back on their feet for the long term.

She made a down payment on a building on the west side and started renovating it. After the building's four units were renovated and furnished, she provided homes to four families then in shelters.

By partnering with other nonprofits in Chicago, she’s able to provide the space rent-free for a full 12 months while the families re-learn how to take care of a home and themselves.

“After living on the streets, they have to relearn such simple things as how to take the garbage out. Those other organizations had the other components to help them,” she adds.

Housing is just one layer of eradicating homelessness. Those who experience being houseless must reenter the workforce to sustain themselves. Payne decided to tackle this end of the issue as well, opening Smoothie RX, a local restaurant that offers juices, bowls, smoothies and soups. The restaurant employs the homeless and provides them with a living wage.

Payne, who owns a mortgage company, also spends time advising fellow real estate professionals on how they can help their clients obtain nontraditional funding to purchase investment properties to create more affordable housing options.