Welcoming your legislators to tour their local apartment communities is one of the best ways to connect with them as policymakers. Tours give legislators a hands-on experience of how the policies they will vote on have immediate and long-term impacts on the apartment housing industry. It is an opportunity to connect them with their district and underscore how apartment communities are an integral part of their districts and the constituents who call apartments home. There are few better ways to build meaningful lasting relationships with legislators.
Brett Waller of the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (WMFHA) worked with NAA Government Affairs on a congressional property tour to welcome U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1) at one of WMFHA’s member properties, Gateway Apartments by HNN Associates. Congresswoman DelBene joined a group of apartment industry advocates and representatives on Oct. 2, 2018, in Everett, Wash., to get a first-hand look at how her legislative actions affect her constituents and their communities.
How did you decide to ask Congresswoman DelBene? Was it strategic?
Rep. DelBene represents the 1st Congressional District in Washington State. Her district comprises major tech sectors (Microsoft, Google, etc.) and the suburban areas north and east of Seattle proper. WMFHA has maintained a close and productive working relationship with the Congresswoman that has yielded great results for all involved. She sits on the Ways and Means Committee in the House, and her status as a friend of the industry cannot be overstated. She was instrumental this year in helping to advance legislation that stabilized the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). We wanted to show the Congresswoman in real, tangible terms the people and the causes that works for.
Why did you choose that specific property (HNN Associates’ Gateway Apartments)?
Our team chose HNN because of their commitment to affordable housing. They’ve also had great success in developing quality communities that provide amenities and services to support their residents. This was a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on LIHTC and more clearly illustrate the tremendous importance of DelBene’s continued support. We wanted a property where we could show why the issue mattered. When advocating to legislators, white papers and constituent email campaigns are both vital tools in our toolboxes for advocacy, but there is no substitute for seeing and experiencing for yourself the causes you’re fighting for. This particular community brought everything full circle in the most impactful way possible. HNN’s commitment to affordable housing, and their success in developing quality communities give our members, and members nationwide the chance to spotlight some of the great and innovative work that our industry is doing on a daily basis to be a leader in creating quality affordable housing, even in expensive markets like Seattle.
Can you familiarize us with HNN? How many units or properties participate in LIHTC? What have been their successes and challenges?
HNN Associates is a locally-based owner-operator of approximately 7,000 units, and a long-term holder of the rental property. Their properties are mainly targeted at affordable housing, and they build larger family-sized units, with predominately 3, 4, 5-bedroom properties. This is rare in this region, where one in 10 homes in Seattle has a single room. Seattle was recently named to have the smallest average apartment size in the country. In 2018, the Washington State Finance Commission recognized HNN with the Proud Partner Award for outstanding management of affordable apartment properties throughout Washington State.
What was the easiest part of setting this property tour up with Congresswoman DelBene?
I was surprised by how quickly things came together, all told. We worked hard to confirm a date with Rep. DelBene’s staff. Once that was accomplished, they were easy to work with. We were prepared as well, of course, with location and times to be most opportune and convenient for the Congresswoman’s schedule. Logistical preparation and flexibility were bigger parts of the process than some might expect.
What would you say were the most difficult parts of getting this accomplished?
In prior Congressional visits, we have done a walk-through with the member property to prepare and review what we will show the Representative. We were not able to do that this time because things came together quickly. With that said, HNN did an incredible job of explaining Gateway, their company mission and the services provided by the community to residents. The tour really went off without a hitch.
Were there any unexpected moments during the tour?
The unexpected moment came during our more substantive conversation on the issues in the model apartment, instead of a more formal sit-down with the Congresswoman. It turned out better than we could have planned; it was a more relaxed and natural environment, and the discussion flowed accordingly. It really could not have gone much better in my opinion.
Do you have advice for other associations that are thinking of setting up property tours with their Members of Congress?
I encourage anyone who may be reticent to absolutely reach out to their Members of Congress. NAA has many helpful tools that take away a lot of the guesswork and provide a greater feeling of confidence when dealing with the Congresswoman’s staff. If you’ve got a unique program that assists in affordability, from development to existing housing, don’t be afraid to pitch it to your legislators. Often, they are actively looking for new ways to invest in affordable housing opportunities.
Furthermore, property tours provide an in-depth connection with your Member of Congress. Capitol Hill is a unique environment, politically. In Congress, like in many state legislatures, one bill may be strong and have bi-partisan support, but it is heavily reliant on many other bills to succeed. Having that knowledge straight from the source can be a tremendous benefit to your members, and in-person meetings are the most effective way to capture that information.
WMFHA’s experience with Congresswoman DelBene offers up a great example of how a little effort can go a long way for your elected officials, your association and your members. This is a simple and potent action that you can take with your representatives, and NAA cannot recommend it strongly enough. Nothing motivates most elected officials like their electorate. At the very base of the electoral calculus, that’s what the apartment industry is made of: Voters.
You can make a difference with your legislator! Check out some of the advocacy resources available to you in the member’s only Advocacy365 Knowledge Bank.
Contact Peter Fromknecht, Manager, Grassroots Advocacy for information or assistance in setting up a property tour with your member of Congress.