Each fall, the NAA Government Affairs team recognizes the US apartment industry’s top grassroots advocate. This award, the Advocacy365 Member Advocate of the year, is one of our most prestigious and recognizes outstanding voluntary contributions to industry advocacy at the local, state and national levels. No one better exemplifies a commitment to that spirit than the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association’s Executive Officer, Alice Ehn.
The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association (affectionately nicknamed WA3) was formed by a small group of property owners and managers in the fall of 1983 to make a legislative impact in their area. One of the great learning experiences of their efforts that year, which were successful, was the realization by their members of the vital obligation to be in close contact and organized to assist the overall rental housing community. Ehn sets a sterling example of that commitment to organization and determination.
Ehn has a passion and enthusiasm for advocacy that is apparent to anyone she meets. She has been an active member of the National Apartment Association for 19 years, an absolute force for WA3 and a consummate team leader.
“I truly believe that I did not win this on my own,” she said. “Any advocacy program is only as strong as the members make it with their voices, time and energy. The only issue I have is with those that expect the associations to make changes for them while they do not see the need to support the associations with their membership.”
Involved everywhere, Ehn has worked as part of the Government Affairs Roundtable group since 2001. She volunteers on the legislative committee at the Property Management Association of Michigan, providing a valuable voice for the independent rental owners and large management companies she serves at the national and state level.
“Our association is made up of half [independent rental owners] and half large management companies,” she says. “We give a voice to the Independent Owner locally and they are the ones with the passion to make things happen. Grassroots is what makes all advocacy effective.”
Part of what inspires about Alice is that she is her own dedicated government affairs staff. “I got into advocacy because we are a small association and had no one else that could do it,” she said. “As I learned more of the issues that affect rental housing, and we began to change policy locally, it became apparent that was where a significant part of my job was headed. I joined the Government Affairs Roundtable group to understand what was happening around the country to the rental housing industry so we could be more proactive in working of positive change.”
She took the initiative to work with NAA staff to create a new, streamlined member advocacy program providing members the ability to stay informed, take action and make an impact on behalf of their industry.
She, along with the Property Management Association of Michigan (PMAM), were instrumental in drafting and passing 2017’s Senate Bill 72, which provided much-needed flexibility to owners and operators, and put their futures back in their own hands regarding the smoking and growing of medical marijuana on their properties. Because the bill amended the state Constitution, it required a three-fourths majority to pass; a high hurdle for any legislative advocacy. With Ehn’s help, however, along with that of other members in Michigan, that effort too was a successful one.
PMAM worked with remarkable efficiency and a commitment to making their members’ voices heard. The entire program was implemented and the first campaign was ready within a week. This groundswell of support was noticed on the other side of the desk, as well. For the first time, members were now being contacted by their legislators for information and clarification on legislation. To overstate the value of those connections and that trust between the industry and lawmakers is impossible.
Alice, despite being a one-person staff, was instrumental in activating and keeping the members of PMAM informed, and pulling in the same direction during the whole process. She became a master at utilizing the tools available through NAA’s Advocacy 365 program, simplifying the process for members to communicate with their legislators, bringing stakeholders and policymakers closer than ever, and attracting scores of first-time advocates.
In a policy landscape that is fast-paced, often-changing and complex, Ehn’s determination and organization are effective tools in Michigan that we encourage all of our members and affiliates to emulate. That is why we are proud to honor Alice Ehn as 2017’s NAA Advocacy365 Member Advocate of the Year!