If there’s one thing Americans can agree on right now, it’s how much disagreement there is. Polarization is at an all-time high and Washington seems hopelessly gridlocked by partisans on both sides of the aisle. But one political organization has found a way to build coalitions at the local and state levels that are consistently effecting change on housing issues: the Realtor Party.
The Realtor Party is an extension of the nation’s largest trade association, the National Association of Realtors, which boasts 1.4 million members spread throughout the nation in big cities and small towns. There are more than 1,200 local NAR associations, each with leaders embedded in local communities.
NAR has been mobilizing its members since its founding in 1908 as the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges, when its objective was “to unite the real estate men of America for the purpose of effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests.” In 1969 NAR formed its political action committee, RPAC, to promote the election of pro-Realtor candidates, and in 2010, it launched the Realtor Party.
Funded by NAR membership dues, the Realtor Party stays close to NAR’s initial mission of exerting influence, describing itself as “the only advocacy group in America that fights exclusively for homeownership, real estate investment, strong communities and the free enterprise system.”
Last year the Realtor Party further clarified its goals in three pillars:
- Realtors know how homeownership changes lives. That is why we advocate for products like the 30-year, fixed rate mortgage and other factors that benefit homeownership. This includes addressing increasing housing costs and availability of mortgage credit for all.
- Realtors and Realtor associations work at all levels of government to safeguard against threats to private property rights. Realtors stand for equal access to housing and the removal of barriers that prevent the full, intended use of property.
- Realtors are community leaders…Working with public officials and partner organizations, Realtors drive community and economic development by advocating for smart policies at the local, state, and national level.
Lots of organizations have inspiring mission statements, but the impressive thing about The Realtor Party is how effective Realtors have been at translating those talking points into action. A quick survey of Realtor Party success stories over the last year nets dozens of examples of the party members’ involvement and influence — from small neighborhood issues to statewide legislation. A random sampling shows that the Realtor Party:
- Protected short-term rentals in Cape Coral, Florida
- Fought a proposed fire impact fee for all new development in Moses Creek, Washington
- Overturned a new property tax assessment method in Barrington, Rhode Island
- Opposed a mandatory measure for a Community Climate Action Plan in Bend, Oregon
- Supported the Texas Property Tax Reform bill in Texas, which was signed into law
The genius of the Realtor Party is that Realtors are able to flag potential problems while they’re still percolating at the local level, and then use their state and national associations to organize around solutions very quickly. The party offers training and resources that empower members to contact legislators, find and support pro-Realtor candidates and even run for office themselves. And with an ongoing presence in markets across the country, the Realtor Party is able to run a ground game that would be the envy of any 2020 candidate.
The Realtor Party focuses on advocacy, while its sister organization, RPAC, raises money to contribute to specific campaigns. As NAR puts it: “While the Realtor Party is funded using a portion of the annual member assessment, RPAC uses voluntary contributions made by Realtors to help elect candidates who understand and support their interests. RPAC money – given freely by Realtors – provides the ‘hard’ dollars the association uses to make direct contributions to national, state and local candidates in recognition of the importance of the political process.”
In the 2018 election cycle, RPAC spent more than $13 million, including $3.4 million to federal candidates, with 51% going to Democrats and 48% to Republicans. RPAC supports candidates based on their support of NAR’s federal priorities. In 2018 the litmus test for candidates included questions about whether they supported the National Flood Insurance Program, government participation in the secondary mortgage market, net neutrality, and the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Tax.
But while RPAC fights for NAR’s federal priorities, the Realtor Party’s battles are often closer to home, bringing party members together over more than just real estate.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in California in 2018. Ellie Rosebush, an account executive at the Oroville Association of Realtors, was dialing in to the monthly call for the California Association of Realtors when she got news that a fire was devouring her hometown of Paradise several miles away. Within minutes, her husband had to evacuate their home, which burned to the ground along with almost every other building in town.
Rosebush and thousands of others were displaced instantly.
“There was a mass migration out of that area as people tried to find housing,” she said. “All those people filtered out to Chico and Oroville — in one day.” Rosebush and other Realtors in her association worked to find shelter for these families, calling clients to see if there were any homes to buy, rent or share. But before she had even gotten off the phone that first day, account executives from CAR let her know they were sending grants to her community.
Anyone who had lost their homes was eligible for $2,000 grants right away, while Realtor members received $5,000.
“They gave grants to the public and they even sponsored a pajama giveaway in Chico and Oroville. They bought all these pajamas at Target and Costco — huge boxes of pajamas — and Starbucks helped serve and provide food while survivors picked up clothes for family members. And they gave them gift cards that were bought by brokers, and paperwork to apply for grants,” Rosebush said. “I’m part of a small association, but we belong to a statewide one that’s huge and when we needed CAR they came through in a big way.”
When it came time to plan her association’s 20/20 forum, Rosebush took the opportunity to help her community start over. Using a Realtor Party grant, she organized a community forum featuring a smart growth expert who inspired leaders to consider a whole new way of rebuilding Paradise. This might be the true power of the Realtor Party — it inspires a virtuous cycle of investing time and money where it matters most. All politics is local, it seems.