With Election Day in the rearview mirror, the National Association of Realtors expects that the ground will be ripe next year to pass bipartisan legislation favorable to its members, including legislation related to minority homeownership, first-time homebuyers and increasing housing supply.
Although the results are not all in yet, election night was a great one for Realtors, Christine Hansen, NAR’s vice president of advocacy, told attendees at the trade group’s annual conference, the Realtors Conference & Expo, on Wednesday. Hansen spoke at a session called “Town Hall Election Analysis and 2021 Forecast.” More than half of NAR’s membership, 52.9 percent, or 839,694 Realtors, cast their votes before Election Day, according to the group.
“The 2021 election was definitely one for the books,” she said. “There was record-breaking early voter turnout nationally, as well as for Realtors and the candidate who received the most votes ever cast for a presidential election candidate.”
“Overall, Realtors had a great election night,” she added.
NAR said it spent $4 million to run 83 “opportunity races,” which involve communications such as educational and advocacy mailings and phone banks on behalf of Realtor-supported federal candidates, and $20 million on 12 independent expenditure campaigns directed to the general public.
“While we are still waiting for results, I’m proud to report that we have won 65 of our opportunity races and five independent expenditure campaigns,” Hansen said.
Realtor Party Director Pete Kopf noted that 70 Realtors ran for office and at least 41 won while two are headed to run-off races and seven are too close to call.
“On the state and local levels, we supported 459 independent expenditures or candidate campaigns in 2020, 284 of which were decided on election night. So far, we’ve won 174 of those races. Our issues mobilization program was used to support 16 ballot initiatives. Overall, the pro-Realtor position prevailed or is leading in eight measures,” he said.
NAR contributed $4.8 million to the California Association of Realtors’ fight to pass Proposition 19, a property tax break for homeowners 55 and older, which won by a narrow margin.
‘The most bipartisan PAC’
NAR spent nearly $4 million on direct contributions to candidates through its political action committee, RPAC. “I’m pleased to report that we maintain our position as the most bipartisan PAC out there with a 51-49 split,” said Shannon McGahn, NAR’s chief advocacy officer. OpenSecrets.org, a website that tracks campaign and lobbying money and is run by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, put the split at 53 percent toward Democrats and 47 percent toward Republicans.
Nationally, NAR had victories in more than 90 percent of the House and Senate races called so far, according to McGahn. Some of the candidates that received NAR’s help were senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Steve Daines (R-Montana) and senator-elect Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico).
Like everyone else, the trade group is waiting for two run-off elections in Georgia to determine which political party will control the U.S. Senate.
“It appears that Congress will not be controlled by just one political party, and that they will need to seek bipartisan compromise on any issues or major policy initiatives that come up. And lucky for us, that’s where the Realtor Party comes into play,” McGahn said.
“We support that Venn diagram of where House and Senate, Republican and Democratic, can all work together, ensuring that balanced government and centrist public policy is favorable and will help the communities that you serve.”
NAR’s priorities for the next Congress will be housing availability and affordability, fair housing, and combating the coronavirus pandemic, including fighting for Realtor access to benefits, rental assistance and loan forgiveness, according to McGahn.
Doug Sosnik, a political consultant for NAR, stressed that Realtors should stay involved.
“We are in a period of sustained political turmoil and volatility in our country,” he said. “I think this period is going to continue for several more years.”
“Realtors are considered the most potent political organization in Washington,” he added. “It’s because of our bipartisanship. And it’s because we have leaders in every community in the country. Our work is never done. The political volatility, I’m afraid, is not going to change anytime soon. That’s why it’s essential for all of you on this call today, that you stay engaged and members of the Realtor Party to protect Americans’ interests in homeownership.”
What NAR expects in the next Congress for fair housing
Bryan Greene, NAR’s director of fair housing policy, predicted that the Biden administration would likely restore some Obama-era fair housing rules, including the current administration’s repeal of the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and its weakening of the “disparate impact” standard, which a federal court stopped last month, pending litigation. NAR was against both rule changes.
“The hope will be that [the AFFH rule is] stronger and more helpful to communities and actually leads to real outcomes,” Greene said. “This involves addressing the legacy that’s left to us by redlining. It’s really calling on communities in cities mostly, people that receive community development block grant funds, entities that receive those funds to do something.”
Greene also anticipated that Obama-era rules regarding transgender housing opportunity and shelters would revert back and that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would likely begin taking complaints alleging sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under its current authority, which prohibits sex discrimination.
“When it comes to legislation, my guess is the Biden administration will probably put forward some legislation dealing with minority homeownership and access to affordable private housing, and I think those are issues that the National Association of Realtors would be eager to support,” he said.
“We are seeing a diversifying country and we still have significant gaps in homeownership among racial groups. If we’re going to see continued growth, we’re going to have to see those gaps close.”
“We’ve seen from COVID [that] the failure to address these issues leads to more problems and leads to unrest and so NAR will focus on some of those issues,” he added. “The devil will be in the details when we see proposed legislation, but we definitely need to deal with the minority homeownership gap and the wealth disparity that it causes.”
Biden mixed on real estate taxes
President-Elect Joe Biden has promised a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, which NAR supports, and is “fortunately” a bipartisan issue, according to Evan Liddiard, NAR’s director of tax policy.
At the same time, Biden has proposed abolishing 1031 “like-kind” exchanges for investors with annual incomes above $400,000, a much favored benefit in the industry. The additional federal funds would allow Biden’s administration to accrue $775 billion in government spending over the next 10 years to help provide care for children and the elderly. The exchanges enable real estate investors to defer capital-gains taxes when they sell properties by directing the proceeds into new investments, a practice many investors take advantage of on a continual basis.
“We’re worried about it. At the same time, we realize that this is mostly an education issue. There are many members of Congress and their staff who don’t understand what 1031 is, what it does,” Liddiard said.
“Especially this particular time when we have an economy that’s on the rocks, especially in a commercial real estate market that is in trouble, it’s the last thing we would want to do to eliminate 1031 because it allows people, particularly those with excess commercial real estate space, to convert it to something that might be a higher and better use.”
Focusing on housing supply
NAR will support policies that will provide tax incentives to encourage seniors that face high capital gains taxes to sell homes that no longer suit their needs, according to Liddiard. The trade group will also support a tax credit for converting commercial real estate to residential and a tax credit to hire more construction workers, he added.
“There has been a 10-year shortage of residential construction workers and a tax credit could help incentivize companies to train them or for individuals who want to get into that trade to get education and training so they can become construction workers,” he said.
NAR will also propose “a new kind of bond that would incentivize state and local governments to get rid of roadblocks to rezone or to in other ways speed up the process of allowing new home construction,” he added. “It gives them a financial incentive to get rid of gridlock within the zoning process. So they would speed things up, get more homes built and help end the millions of homes that we’re short right now in today’s markets.”