Keys in open front door

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REALTORS® can play a pivotal role in helping state and local governments develop innovative housing stabilization policies for those experiencing ongoing effects from the pandemic. Real estate professionals can also work with federal agencies to help former clients and other individuals who are struggling to find resources to help them remain in their homes. This was the message of speakers at the Housing Opportunity Committee during the National Association of REALTORS®’ virtual REALTORS® Legislative Meetings on Friday.

The HUD Office of Housing Counseling offers a variety of resources to help families and individuals retain their homes, said Paul Yorkis, vice chair of the Housing Opportunity Committee and a member of the Housing Counseling Federal Advisory Committee. Through a network of 1,640 housing counseling agencies, the HUD office can connect people with a participating housing agency through their website, and provide grant funding for qualified applicants. REALTORS® can assist clients in navigating all that HUD has to offer, including forbearance and mortgage relief, the homeowner assistance fund, and emergency rental assistance.

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“The resources that are available are unbelievable,” said Yorkis, “and the key here is for each REALTOR® to be able to add these resources to their toolkit.” He added that even though the resources are intended for housing counselors, that HUD agencies are happy to work with members of NAR and view them as partners. “I’ve used them, and they really work,” he said.

Yorkis also noted that helping people can have an unexpected upside. “If you refer a person to a housing counseling agency,” he said, “after they’ve done the work, you have a client for life.”

Yorkis recommended the following resources:

NAR also offers a wealth of information for REALTORS® to help keep them apprised of the state and local policies that can affect their businesses, said Melissa Horn, the association’s state and local government policy representative. NAR tracks policies across the nation that affect REALTORS®, such as pandemic unemployment assistance by state, remote notarization orders, and rent and mortgage relief programs in one convenient REALTOR® Party State and Local Coronavirus Resources landing page.

NAR also keeps members informed through the COVID-19 Real Estate Industry Impact Watch report, which covers issues such as eviction moratoriums, foreclosures, and landlord and tenant issues, and also offers the State Legislative Monitor, which covers trending state legislative topics, such as affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, and association health plans.

In addition, REALTORS® can assist in developing state and local policies, said Neeley Erickson, government affairs director with the Illinois REALTORS®, who detailed the Rockford Area REALTORS®’ work in helping to shape the Winnebago County Emergency Rental Assistance program in Winnebago County, Ill. REALTORS® assisted in drafting the county’s emergency rental assistance policy, Erickson stated, contributing crucial input on open enrollment periods, late fees, and self-certification for eligibility. The latter was particularly important, as Erickson pointed out: “Not everyone has a pay stub.”

The first open enrollment period in the program, which ran from April 1 to April 15, resulted in the submission of 1,079 completed applications, and $780,000 in rent and utility payments were approved by April 30, said Erickson.

Jonathan Schreiber, legislative and regulatory counsel for the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, also detailed his association’s work in developing a mediation scholarship program. The program trains REALTORS® to mediate eviction cases between housing providers and tenants, Schreiber explained, and touted the benefits of the program, stating that mediation can provide fast and equitable resolutions, relieve the current backlog in eviction cases on the courts, and it’s also much cheaper—mediation is free. Providing mediation services also helps shine a light on REALTORS®’ work in the community. “This helps promote our story,” said Schreiber. “We see REALTORS® stepping up in a time of need to serve the community.”

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