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Calaveras County REALTORS® Force Repeal of High-Risk Energy Conservation Loan Program

The REALTORS® of Calaveras County in northern California have nothing against energy conservation or home improvements — far from it — but they were glad to be able to spearhead the repeal of authorization for a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program in their county, back in January. They did so with the help of a REALTOR® Party Issues Mobilization Grant.

The PACE program in Calaveras County, like similar programs in other jurisdictions, provides homeowners with a means to finance conservation improvements from solar panels to electric vehicle plug-in stations, and pay for them through a tax assessment on the property. This lien would be senior to, and therefore have priority over, any other liens, including mortgages. Therefore, explains Kim Schaefer, who serves as a contract Government Affairs Director for the association of under one-hundred REALTORS®, if you can’t pay for that home improvement, you may just lose your home.

“PACE programs are not concerned about the borrower’s credit scores or employment history, making financing easier to obtain and less time consuming,” explains Schaefer, “but these loans are also unfairly expensive, and are often sold by high-pressure door-to-door sales people. And, although PACE loans are in a senior position, they carry interest rates higher than the first mortgage or a home equity loan.” The FHA announced earlier this year that it will no longer insure loans with PACE lines, she adds, noting that by approving the placement of PACE loans in a senior position to FHA first mortgages, HUD has placed homebuyers and tax payers at risk.

The county had authorized the program less than a year ago, and while there hadn’t been much participation yet, members of the Calaveras County Association of REALTORS® (CCAR) were becoming concerned because of problems that might be encountered during real estate transactions, says Schaefer. CCAR was also aware of negative issues that neighboring municipalities were having with such programs, and, in fact, elected officials in the county had been receiving complaints about the high-pressure tactics of some PACE loan sales forces.

Learning that the county Board of Supervisors had put the controversial issue on its agenda in mid-January, CCAR quickly applied for and received an Issues Mobilization Grant to launch a campaign opposing the program. The campaign mobilized grassroots efforts by CCAR members, targeting members of the Board of Supervisors with letters and patch-through calls. CCAR’s President met personally with several Board members to voice the association’s objections to PACE loans, and Schaefer delivered a substantial package of information to Supervisors and their staff, detailing the risks to homeowners.  The vote to repeal authorization was unanimous.

The members of CCAR are very happy with the outcome, reports Schaefer, who adds, “There are many alternative choices to support energy conservation and finance improvements that are more responsible and present less risk to homeowners and neighborhoods.”

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Calaveras County, California are protecting their clients, their communities, and their businesses, contact contract Government Affairs Director Kim Schaefer at 661-203-8500.

 

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North Bay Association Tackles Rent Control Ordinance in Santa Rosa, California

In the North Bay region of California, which counts Napa and Sonoma among its counties, agriculture and tourism are big—and so is the shortage of affordable and work force housing.

When Santa Rosa, the region’s largest city, recently attempted to pass rent control and just cause eviction legislation, the 3,200-member North Bay Association of REALTORS® (NorBAR) joined forces with a strong coalition of business alliances to protect the rights of property owners—and to encourage government to meet the demand for affordable housing.

NorBAR does not deny that there is a shortage of affordable and workforce housing in the region; rents in Sonoma County have risen nearly 40% in the past four years. But denying apartment owners the ability to charge full market value for the use of their property, and limiting circumstances under which owner can evict a problem tenant, undermines basic private property rights, says Tracy Huotari, NorBAR’s Chief Executive Officer. To solve the real problem, she notes, the city will have to allow development of more affordable housing.   

The issue had been brewing for several years, when in August 2016, the Santa Rosa City Council passed a permanent rent control and just cause eviction ordinance. The next day, NorBAR and a coalition it had formed with the California Apartment Association began collecting signatures to prevent it from being enforced. They were successful in halting the ordinance, only to have the Council place it on the ballot for voters to decide, in a special election in June 2017.

NorBAR turned to NAR’s Campaign Services Team for help; it had already contributed funds from its own Issues Mobilization fund, and secured a grant from the California Association of REALTORS®. In addition to a major grant, the REALTOR® Party’s Campaign Services Team provided focus groups and polling to determine the campaign’s viability, identify voters and craft the campaign messaging.  The “No on C” campaign was both a get-out-the-vote effort and an educational force. “Our REALTORS® were deeply involved,” says Huotari, “they were out knocking on doors, registering voters, putting up lawn signs and making a big push on social media. Our coalition, ‘Citizens for Fair and Equitable Housing,’ was amazing, uniting the chamber of commerce and groups from across many local industries. Its website, FairHousingForAll.com, remains a great resource.” In addition to four targeted postcard mailings, door-to-door canvassers and TV, radio and online advertising, the ‘No on C’ campaign benefitted from the support of the influential local newspaper, The Press Democrat

On June 6, the ordinance was defeated by 52% of the vote.

The next step, says Huotari, will be sitting down with legislators and getting them to solve the real problems. “The bottom line is that we need to fix the supply shortage,” she explains, noting that the REALTORS® will be working with local units of government to look at removing obstacles to affordable and workforce housing. “We’ve got a number of understanding legislators in office, and we’ll continue to work hard and use our PAC funds in the local elections process to support even more.”

Meanwhile, the success of the campaign is having an apparent impact beyond Santa Rosa.  For months, says Huotari, the rent control issue was being discussed in another nearby community, also within the North Bay Association’s jurisdiction; it now seems to have “fallen off the agenda” in the weeks since the voters in Santa Rosa defeated the measure.

To learn more about how the North Bay Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights in the counties north of San Francisco, while keeping the focus on solutions to increase affordable and work force housing, contact Chief Executive Officer Tracy A. Huotari at 707-522-8169.

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The Experienced San Fran REALTORS® Defeat Mission Moratorium

One sure way to exacerbate the already steep housing challenges in San Francisco would have been a 30-month moratorium on new development in the Mission District, where housing inventory is low, and in increasingly high demand.  Using an Issues Mobilization grant from the National Association of REALTORS® for the second time in as many years, the 4,600-member San Francisco Association of REALTORS® (SFAR) convinced voters to thwart the threatened ‘Mission Moratorium’ in November.

The city’s infamous affordability crisis has been brought about, in part, by decades of low housing production, explains Jay Cheng, SFAR’s Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations.  In the historically working-class Mission District, the situation is complicated by issues of gentrification.  Ironically, last year’s proposed moratorium backed by far-left housing activists threatened not only to further displace long-term residents, but it would actually have cut off affordable housing funding that is supported by fees from market-value housing projects in the district. 

The back-to-back timing of SFAR’s two issues campaigns increased the association’s sophistication and impact the second time around, notes Cheng.  In 2014, it had defeated a proposed additional transfer tax with an energetic, multilingual campaign and get-out-the-vote effort, completely funded by the REALTORS®.  “Thanks to our success with the transfer tax campaign, we were able to build a strong coalition to help fight the moratorium.  We leveraged the generous grants we received from the REALTOR® Party and our state association to secure sizeable financial support from our coalition partners.  For both campaigns, we received tremendous help and guidance from NAR’s amazing team.” 

SFAR’s anti-moratorium coalition reached voters through direct mail and online advertising, a paid social media campaign, and cable and broadcast television advertising; then door-to-door canvassing and live phone banks.  A big push in the second phase of the campaign sought to persuade swing voters, notably among San Francisco’s strong Chinese and LGBT communities.  The Inter-board Solicitation Program of the California Association of REALTORS® helped get the campaign past the finish line, funding the last television advertising salvo with help from boards all over the state.  “It’s fantastic, the way these contributions of $1,000 and $5,000 can add up to so much, and have such an impact,” says Cheng.    

He also notes that in San Francisco, politics are a ground game.  “We respect the street fighters!” he laughs, adding seriously that the city’s voters are extremely sophisticated.  “If you don’t knock on their door and explain your position on the issue, you won’t have their respect—and you’ll hear about it.”  That’s where SFAR’s 400 volunteers made the difference, putting in 3,000 volunteer-hours reaching out to the voting public. 

With the power of the REALTOR® Party behind them, those member volunteers were working to protect their livelihood: the number of SFAR members able to work as active REALTORS® in the Mission would certainly be limited by a moratorium like the one that was on the ballot.  “As much as we’re trying to help our members today,” adds Cheng, “we need to be thinking long-term.  We need to have enough product for our members to work with, to ensure a sustainable future for real estate.” 

SFAR and its coalition defeated the Mission Moratorium with 14.4% of the vote in an election with a fairly high turn-out, but plenty of work remains ahead.  “When you’re talking about housing in San Francisco,” says Cheng, “this campaign is just the last maneuver in an ongoing battle.  We have to keep at it, to solve the problems and move our city forward.”  To that end, Cheng serves on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, which convenes parties on all sides of the issue to sit down together to find lasting, viable housing solutions for San Francisco.

To learn more about how the San Francisco REALTORS® defeated the threatened Mission Moratorium, contact Jay Cheng, Deputy Director of Government Affairs and Community Relations of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS®, at 408-691-0423.

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Santa Clara County Association (CA) Helps Elect Pro-Business REALTOR® Champion to City Council

When a seat opened up on the San Jose, CA City Council last January, the 5,000-member Santa Clara County Association of REALTORS® saw an opportunity to elect a candidate who would stand up for their issues.  This was especially important with a number of significant property-rights issues looming on the horizon. With an Independent Expenditure grant from NAR and political action funds of their own, they helped their candidate win a decisive victory in the June election.

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San Diego REALTORS® Open Housing Opportunity Doors for Foreclosure Victims, Minorities and Other Under-served Populations

The Housing Opportunity Committee of the Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS® (GSDAR) is bringing access to the American dream of home ownership to all: one under-served population at a time.  In fact, GSDAR’s exceptional Housing Opportunity efforts were honored in March in the first round of NAR’s Community Outreach Awards.  From veterans and their families, to minority groups, to homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure and are attempting to re-enter the market, the San Diego REALTORS have been there to open doors to housing opportunities.

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Beverly Hills/Los Angeles REALTORS® Defeat Unfair Transfer Tax Proposed for Santa Monica

In a campaign involving volunteer and professional phone-banking, online advertising, yard signs, direct mailings and door-to-door work, the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS® soundly defeated a proposed transfer tax increase that would have hit Santa Monica developers square on the chin. Owners of condos, single-family homes and apartments also would have taken a hit.  With a major Issues Mobilization grant from NAR, as well as significant support from the California Association, the 7,000-member association prevented the proposed tax hike from becoming law, setting the stage to defeat similar proposals in other California cities.

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Medina County (OH) REALTORS® Help Bring Dying Main Street of Seville Back to Life

The village of Seville, Ohio (population not quite 2,500) had been hard hit by the recent recession, and before that, by the imposition of a set of extremely limiting zoning codes that left its once-charming main street commercial district 33 percent unoccupied. It was anchored at each end by shuttered gas stations, constituting unsightly brownfields. A recently closed elementary school loomed vacant nearby, not just an empty property, but representing the absence of significant tax revenue from the village coffers.

Within a year of receiving a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from NAR through the Medina County Board of REALTORS® (MCBOR) in the spring of 2012, Seville has bounced back in a big way. Susan Faust, Association Executive of the 618-member MCBOR credits member Rick Stallard, a Seville resident and civic leader, with the vision and energy that made it happen.

NAR had advised Stallard, who is a longtime REALTOR® and the Legislative Chair of MCBOR, as well as being a Seville City Councilman and its Director of Economic Development, to seek help from The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Center (NTMSC) to revive the fortunes of downtown Seville. At first, Stallard was reluctant. “I’ve spent a lot of time and effort protecting private property rights,” he says, “and all I could think of was how restrictive it would be to put ourselves in the hands of preservationists. We were already being so hindered by zoning and building codes, the last thing I wanted to do was impose another set of limits on property owners.  Boy, was I wrong!”

Once convinced of the wisdom of tapping in to the expertise of The National Trust, he enlisted the support and commitment of the Mayor of the village of Seville, as well as the Council and Zoning Commission. The $15,000 contributed by NAR brought representatives from NTMSC to conduct a study and make recommendations for reviving the downtown center; they were joined by a representative from NAR. For three days last October, the visiting experts looked, listened, and studied the problems of Seville’s commercial downtown. With the information they gathered, NTMSC issued a complete analysis with clear and specific recommendations. Stallard calls it “a  blueprint.”

But the town’s morale was on the rise before the report was even in hand. “When  people saw that money was being invested, and experts were coming to advise us, they began to buy in to the plan, and really rolled up their sleeves,” notes Stallard. The  village applied for and received Historic status, which not only relaxes the building codes and ADA regulations on the century-old commercial buildings, but opens the door to more grants for reviving them. NTMSC helped Seville to identify county resources to have the brownfield sites assessed. The recommendations for filling commercial vacancies focused on building on the success of the existing cluster of antique and craft stores. The vacant elementary school was sold first to an investor, and then to a church from out of state that is making it a new headquarters and international college of music. This development enterprise is bringing eighteen new families to town.

Stallard himself bought the biggest vacant building on the main street, a two story structure owned by the Veterans. In return, he offered them ten years’ occupancy of the second floor, rent-free. He gave the building a badly needed paint job, inspiring his neighbors to do the same. The row of stores and businesses is now fresh, cheerful, welcoming — and occupied. Stallard’s ground floor tenant, an antiques business, is so prosperous that it has expanded into a space next door.

Twice in recent months, AAA has brought bus loads of shoppers to the quaint downtown district, now a regional destination for antique- and crafts-lovers, an activity that would have been unimaginable just last year.

To learn more about how one REALTOR® has made a world of difference in Seville, Ohio, contact Susan Faust, Association Executive of the Medina County Board of REALTORS®, at susan@medinarealtors.com or 330.722.1000.

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Beverly Hills/Los Angeles REALTORS® Help Elect Champion to City Council

The 6,000-member Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS® (BHGLAAR) was fairly certain that five of the six candidates it was supporting for the Los Angeles City Council, would easily win this year’s election.  But one of those REALTOR® Champions, Mitch O’Farrell, was up against some stiff competition.  The BHGLAAR leaders turned to NAR’s Campaign Services office for help. That help came in the form of cracker-jack field teams in “Neighbors for Mitch” t-shirts that went door-to-door asking thousands of voters to put their faith in Mitch O’Farrell.  In addition, NAR funded telephone calls to voting households, and BHGLAAR contributed its own funds to pay for direct mailers.  O’Farrell won handily, and the BHGLAAR is already enjoying improved relationships with the city council.

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