The Industry Sends Its Message
Apartment industry professionals gathered from around the country to educate their representatives on four key issues that affect the rental housing.
Katie Wrenn’s Lobby Day started before she even landed in Washington DC.
Wrenn, Director of Marketing and Training for Finlay Management, was boarding her plane for Washington at the Jacksonville International Airport when she noticed that U.S. Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) was also on her flight.
Wrenn saw an opportunity. She approached Rutherford, referencing a previous time they had met years earlier. She educated the Congressman about the issues affecting the industry and he introduced her to his colleague, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL).
When Wrenn arrived at Rutherford’s office for their official meeting the next day as part of NAA’s Advocate Conference, the Congressman greeted Wrenn like an old friend. Most importantly, he was an engaged listener when the Florida Apartment Association spoke about the industry’s concerns, which included reforming litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program, crafting federal standards for Cybersecurity and infrastructure investment.
“He was really responsive,” Wrenn says. “He was asking a lot of questions, especially with the infrastructure.”
The Florida contingent’s visit with Rutherford was one of many productive Lobby Day visits When NAA members from around the country converged on Capitol Hill.
If there was such a thing as the perfect Capitol Hill visit for NAA members during Advocate, the Wichita contingent had it when visiting the office of Sen. Jerry Moran during Advocate.
Leah Thibault, CAM, CAPS, Regional Manager, Maxus Properties; and Ryan Farrell, Association Executive (AE) for the Apartment Association of Greater Wichita; spent 30 minutes with Moran’s Legislative Director William Ruder, holding a comfortable and enlightening chat about the ADA lawsuits, cybersecurity and flood insurance.
“We came there to brief him on these topics and it was great to hear that he already knew so much about them,” said Thibault, attending her ninth NAA Capitol Hill Lobby Day. “In fact, we learned from him. [Ruder] is so smart. He does his homework. It’s satisfying to know that he is the person who helps inform [Sen. Moran] about our industry.
Moran, a former U.S. Representative who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, sits on committees for appropriations; commerce, science and transportation; environment and public works; and veterans and Indian affairs.
Thibault usually visits Moran’s office on Lobby Day. She corresponds with Ruder through email during the year, and the two were able to make light-hearted chatter about the Kansas schools competing this year in March Madness as well learn updates about Ruder’s 1-year-old son. This made the meeting more relaxing for Farrell, who spent 13 years in local property management before taking the job as Wichita’s AE the past year.
Relationships mean something special to people from small towns. Interestingly and coincidentally, Moran and Ruder are from Plainville, Kansas: Population 1,900.
“We wanted to bring up the two bills [cybersecurity and ADA lawsuits] because they had already passed the House,” Thibault said. “We encouraged him to tell Moran to move them along in the Senate. These are complicated topics. But [Ruder] came prepared. It was impressive. He filled us in on potential language on the topics that could end up in the Senate version—things we didn’t even know about.”
The honest discussion was welcomed, Thibault said, especially compared to some meetings when comments seem scripted, stiff and even forced. “Just the three of us in the meeting was the ideal number for a Hill visit, in my opinion,” Thibault said. “Everyone got to make their points.”
Thibault says the apartment industry has made great strides in having its voice heard during events such as Advocate.”
“It wasn’t too many years ago that we’d come here and only talk about who we are in terms of being a large and important industry,” Thibault said. “Now, they know who we are and what we stand for. Now we aren’t just telling them who we are, but what we want.”
Farrell was pleased that Ruder understood the importance that housing plays in any market.
“He can see that Americans today want housing that serves both ends of the socio-economic scale,” Farrell said. “[Ruder] said that he sees cranes everywhere, building more housing. And that a lot of people are living in apartments because they choose to.”
View from Other Districts
While the Florida and Kansas delegations already had developed relationships with their legislators, other groups need to provide an introduction to the apartment industry.
In morning meetings with Pennsylvania representatives, Don Millstein, President of H2O Degree, and other members from Pennsylvania, emphasized the industry’s economic power.
“You had to reinforce with them that there were people in apartments in their district and there is a lot of construction and rehab work, which employs people,” Millstein says. “Once you start bringing that all together—the residents, construction and jobs being created—now they start to listen a little differently.”
Legislators and their aides seemed to understand why issues such as the ADA and flood insurance were important to the apartment industry, but the other issues, specifically cybersecurity and infrastructure, took a little explaining to bring into focus.
Amanda Inman, a property manager for Carter-Haston Real Estate Service, used talking points about local issues with water, sewer and electrical to explain to an aide to James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) about the how industry can benefit from President Trump’s infrastructure package.
“I don’t think for him it was a natural association between infrastructure and the apartment industry,” Inman says. “So, when we were talking about those things, we had to make those connections to make it relevant. But once we started pointing out those connections, it started to click.”
Cybersecurity was another issue where Lobby Day participants needed to explain the apartment industry’s significance.
“The majority of companies in the apartment industry screen their applicants,” says Lyla Scott - Portfolio Manager, First Communities. “Having 48 different states regulate it is very cumbersome. There needs to be an overall solution.”
After explaining the situation to Clyburn’s aide, Scott thinks he understands the issue.
Explaining complicated issues is only part of the benefit of Lobby Day. It can also help the industry to stand out.
Julie Fosco, Integral Management Company, Milwaukee, and Milwaukee-based Apartment Owners and Managers Association Executive Director Chris Ruditys met with Wisconsin Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin.
The importance of face-to-face meetings on the Hill was reinforced to Ruditys when he learned during his meeting with Johnson that the senator’s office receives more than 650,000 pieces of mail last year after receiving only 250,000 in 2015.
By having in-person meetings, the industry’s message does not get lost in those thousands of pieces of mail.
“I think it’s import to advocate for the industry so that the message from the industry gets heard,” says Greg Lozinak, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer at Newcastle Limited. “Without us advocating, that message doesn’t get through to the level of government that it needs to.”
– Paul R. Bergeron III, NAA, contributed