We Helped Steady the Economy

A series of legislative wins has bolstered real estate, but the pressure is on to stay vigilant for the arrival of a new administration and Congress.

Over the past eight years, the White House and Congress frequently looked to REALTORS® to help get the economy through the worst downturn since the 1930s. National Association of REALTORS® Chief Lobbyist Jerry Giovaniello talked with REALTOR® Magazine about how the real estate industry has fared since then and what to expect in the year ahead.

What were REALTORS®’ most important victories in Washington since 2008? The single most important accomplishment was the home buyer tax credit to help households buy a home while the economy was still recovering. We worked with Congress to pass that credit four times.

Second was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is intended to help protect households from unscrupulous practices in the financial services industry. Importantly, we were left out of the agency’s jurisdiction. Lawmakers debated whether to include the real estate industry as well as the mortgage and banking industries. We made sure we were left out of that equation. That was a quiet but huge win for us.

And then there’s protection of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After they were put into federal conservatorship, Congress introduced a bill to eliminate them, which we opposed. Their role is too important to the purchase and transfer of property. It fell to REALTORS® to explain to Congress how important they are to the economy after the conservator eliminated their government affairs operations.

How has advocacy on behalf of REALTORS® changed over the last several years? One of the most important changes is that 50 to 60 percent of members of Congress are new. They are not as acquainted as they should be with why we have federal incentives for home ownership and real estate investment, such as the mortgage interest deduction, the deduction for state and local real estate taxes, and various commercial incentives. We’ve had to start from scratch to tell them that these are incentives agreed to by the American people—in some cases for 100 years—to promote home ownership and build strong communities.

Looking ahead, we’ll have a new president and a new Congress. What will be the big issues for REALTORS®? We have to be prepared for a perfect storm that might be coming in 2017: tax reform, reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program, and the reinvention of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We’re not sure where Congress or a new president is going to be with them. We have to be vigilant and make sure we educate lawmakers and stay tough.

Lawmakers have long noted that NAR has one of the strongest advocacy programs in Washington. How did REALTORS® get to that position?  Members of Congress look to REALTORS® as a community resource. What businesses are opening? Where are housing prices? Is transportation working? Congress knows that REALTORS® are active in their community. They’re not going to be transferred to, say, a regional REALTOR® center like a banker might be transferred to a regional banking center.