REALTORS® In Action: Actively Addressing Affordable Housing

Housing defines communities. That’s certainly no surprise to REALTORS® who’ve long understood how available, affordable and equitable housing impacts community quality of life and economic prosperity. REALTOR® Associations are utilizing collaborations, education and advocacy as they strive to improve housing availability and accessibility.

A Valuable Resource Guide in San Diego

“Paradise by the beach and mountains near by all create a desirable location and a demand for housing.” That’s how Rafael Perez, member of the Pacific Southwest Association of REALTORS® (PSAR), describes San Diego.

PSAR Chief Executive Officer Richard D’Ascoli explains that San Diego County has a housing deficit of 80,000 units and availability is frequently limited by the period of escrow — a month and a half of available housing — and location constraints. “San Diego is geographically constricted by mountains and desert to the east, Camp Pendleton to the north, Mexico to the south and the ocean to the west.”

Perez explains that urban infill is the future for housing supply in San Diego. That’s why he helped spearhead efforts to create the “San Diego Companion Unit Handbook” designed for homeowners, homebuyers, REALTORS®, and anyone interested in learning about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The handbook, made possible by an NAR Smart Growth Grant, is a step-by-step guide for building ADUs and even includes city-approved blueprints to help streamline the process. The handbook is the first of its kind in San Diego and has earned praise from the city’s mayor and received an Urban Design Award from the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association.

“The handbook covers every component on what a homeowner needs to know in building an ADU. The end result is the handbook makes it easier to build ADUs and saves homeowners time and money,” explains Perez. “ADUs open up lots of opportunities for families and helps prevent displacement. They are affordable housing.”

Perez explains that the handbook has helped foster an exponential increase in the number of ADUs in San Diego and across California. Since the handbook is a one-stop resource, it has helped make the building process more user friendly, inspired an ADU industry and positively impacted San Diego’s tight housing market.

“Cutting red tape has sprouted innovation. That all adds up to chipping away at housing issues,” Perez says.

Creating the handbook also helped create some valuable partnerships between PSAR and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors as it explores affordable housing options on county-owned land. “We want to focus on creating entry-level and moderate-income-level housing. PSAR will be part of those conversations,” D’Ascoli explains.

Productive Partnerships in Central Oregon

REALTORS® are also part of the housing conversation in Central Oregon, where Bend is experiencing significant growing pains.

“A lack of supply and growing prices means that, for many, housing is no longer affordable,” explains Tyler Neese, government affairs director of the Central Oregon Association of REALTORS® (COAR). “Without adding housing, we won’t address that problem.”

Bend has seen housing prices jump from a median price of $489,000 in June 2020 to a price of $670,000 in June 2021. That’s a whopping increase of 37 percent in a year.

But Oregon regulations make it difficult for communities to add land area due to a decades-old state law that establishes Urban Growth Boundaries. If a city wants to add to its boundaries, it must get state approval. Bend’s last expansion was in 2016 and it took approximately 10 years for the state to approve adding 2,400 acres to the city’s boundaries. That acreage was considerably short of the city’s initial request.

The city is preparing to request another expansion and like Housing for All (H4A) might help speed the process along. H4A is a regional consortium dedicated to housing issues and brings together a variety of stakeholders, including COAR members, local officials, intergovernmental agencies, tribal leaders, nonprofits and others.

“It’s a brain trust that brings together lots of people who have been working on housing and doing great things,” Neese explains. “With Housing for All, we’re all now at the same table.”

Part of H4A and COAR’s efforts recently included a public awareness campaign to educate and engage the public in local housing issues. Using multiple media platforms and in-person events, the campaign helped build public support for expanding the Urban Growth Boundary and provided local officials with essential data to make the case for expansion to state lawmakers. COAR utilized a Housing Opportunity Grant and Call to Action to help create the impactful and successful campaign.

Bend and nearby Redmond are also participating in a state pilot program designed to increase affordable housing units by allowing new housing units to be built on designated land currently outside their Urban Growth Boundaries. In Bend, that will translate to 394 homes and in Redmond, the goal is for 485 new housing units. State lawmaker and REALTOR® Jack Zika is working on efforts to expand the program, paving the way for more communities to participate.

Neese explains there is no single solution to the housing crisis. “Our approach is to use every tool in the tool box. A lot of people are working on finding housing solutions. Programs and partnerships will help add up to bigger gains.”

Educating and Advocating in Maryland

Maryland REALTORS® are using education and advocacy to combat a severely strained housing market. Bill Castelli, senior vice president of Government Affairs with Maryland REALTORS® explains because Maryland is the 5th most densely populated state in the country, costs for land, labor and development fees contribute to a lack of flexibility, escalating prices and difficulty in expanding the housing supply.

Maryland REALTORS® recently launched the “Open Doors to Stronger Neighborhoods” program to help expand housing opportunities for all Maryland residents. The program combines public education and legislative advocacy elements, and phase 1 of the effort was funded by a NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) Issue Mobilization Grant, which provides financial assistance to state and local REALTOR® associations to support effective advocacy campaigns on public policy issues.

The program’s goals include closing the homeownership gap, strengthening homebuyer assistance programs and increasing affordable, missing middle housing. Legislation creating homebuyer savings accounts and a work group on minority homeownership go into effect this year. “It’s not a silver bullet,” explains Castelli, “but there’s lots of focus and efforts to make the situation better.”

In 2019, state lawmakers decided that a housing element must be included in mandated comprehensive plans. This has helped focus priorities on increasing housing availability and affordability. Efforts to address different types of affordable housing such as ADUs are still being debated. But Castelli remains hopeful.

One option is to create more Cottage Clusters that allow for more units to be built on given parcels. Local policymakers generally have the final say concerning zoning and planning, but the state can provide important guidance in areas such as dwelling classification uniformity.

“We’re trying to find ways to spur growth for moderately priced housing, which can be a struggle because there aren’t as many programs to incentivize construction and assist homebuyers,” Castelli says.

Celebrating a Century by Empowering the Future: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Colorado Association of REALTORS®, but rather than looking back and celebrating past accomplishments, the association is building partnerships and advocating on behalf of homeowners. The result is empowering future homeowners and expanding affordable housing.

The Colorado Association of REALTORS®, working with Habitat for Humanity and utilizing an NAR Issues Mobilization Grant, launched an effort called “A Century of Opportunity.” The initiative advocated for legislation designed to strengthen high school financial literacy education, help renters build their credit, create an annual public report on affordable housing and help fund programs that support affordable housing development solutions. Thanks to a Call for Action to association members and a legislative champion, all four pieces of legislation were passed with bipartisan support.

“We’re really proud that our four bills in the Century of Opportunity package were signed into law,” says Liz Peetz, vice president of Government Affairs for the Colorado Association of REALTORS®. “All the hard work to bring these significant bills across the finish line will empower future Colorado homeowners for generations to come and spring open the doors of opportunity to homeownership to all Coloradans. It’s an honor to celebrate our 100th anniversary with impactful public policy that lives up to REALTORS®’ values.”

From collaborating, educating and advocating, REALTORS® across the country are part of the search for solutions to the nation’s housing crisis. REALTORS® are helping create valuable resources; build grassroots support; empower future homeowners; and advocate for affordable and equitable housing.

Tyler Neese with COAR sums it up, “It’s critical we’re at the table. We’re part of the community. We’re uniquely positioned to help with solutions. We want to be involved in all points of the spectrum in housing.”

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About On Common Ground

A free, semi-annual magazine published by NAR, On Common Ground presents a wide range of views on smart growth issues, with the goal of encouraging dialog among REALTORS®, elected officials, and other interested citizens.

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