The Wild West

by John Gillespie, WAK Property Management

COVID-19; rogue code inspectors; property taxes; emotional support animals; inspection fees; homelessness; fire codes; recycling; evictions; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; fair housing; premises liability; 1031; LIHTC; vouchers; unemployment; rental assistance—it’s the Wild, Wild West out there for multifamily housing professionals! AATC’s advocacy efforts focus on reigning-in these maverick legislative and regulatory initiatives.

Advocacy is one of AATC’s core purposes. As AATC’s 2020 Government Affairs Committee Chair, I wanted to update you on AATC’s federal, state, and local advocacy initiatives: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The COVID-19 crisis ain’t our first rodeo. Our industry has endured business cycles, the 1986 Tax Reform Act, and hurricane Katrina. We have survived overbuilding and risky underwriting. Overall, AATC members have seen a minimal impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our advocacy success during the COVID-19 crisis is based mostly on our members’ sustained efforts and AATC’s professional government relations staff on-going work to build strong partnerships with elected officials and government staff. We are reaping the benefits of the hard work put in by AATC members over the years to foster professional relationships with government officials. Crises do not build character; crises reveal character. Thanks so much to AATC’s leadership, owners, operators, and our supplier partners for all your hard work to ensure our employees, residents, and businesses thrive through this challenging time. If you have any questions or concerns about our industry’s COVID-19 response go to www.aatcnet.org

As Captain Woodrow Call says in Lonesome Dove, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” I feel the same way about AATC’s, TAA’s, and NAA’s political action committees. AATC PAC, TAA PAC, & NAA PAC provide an opportunity for individuals vested in the multi-housing industry to contribute financial support to state and local candidates for public office and support or oppose measures submitted in public referendums. Over the past decade, AATC PAC has given more than $300,000 to local city council and mayoral candidates. During this same time frame, AATC PAC has also given more than $300,000 in fair-share contributions to TAA PAC to use on candidates throughout Texas. More significantly, since 2015, AATC members have raised more than$675,000 for the NAA PAC. These monies have been used to assist DFW area congressional candidates, as well as congressional candidates across Texas and throughout the nation, including candidates in Arkansas, California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Wyoming.

It takes true grit to be pro-actively involved in advocacy. As the Bedford lawsuit reminded us, politics is a rough and tumble, full-contact endeavor. Our industry is continuously under attack in Washington, Austin, and throughout D/FW from entities across the political spectrum. Conservative, homeowners see apartments as the sources of lower property values, crime, parking problems, noise, increased traffic, and school overcrowding. Liberal, tenant activists view apartments and landlords as powerful real estate moguls that take advantage of the poor and defenseless. Both consider our industry as easy targets for additional tax and fee revenues, regulations, and restrictions. Unfortunately, many politicians listen to these groups and their all hat, no cattle approach to reality. Government officials fail to realize the positive impact our industry has on communities and the economy. In short, AATC is constantly educating and re-educating government officials about the multifamily housing industry.

AATC’s municipal Advocacy Teams are an excellent opportunity to join with fellow AATC members to engage with city officials. Our Advocacy Teams are hard at work on your behalf in cities throughout Tarrant County. Advocacy team members meet and vet candidates (the good, the bad, and the ugly) for public office. This personal engagement enhances AATC’s GAC & PAC trustees’ candidate evaluation process. Advocacy teams host property tours, attend city council meetings, and engage in local issues that affect our industry. If you live, own, or operate properties in Arlington, Bedford, Burleson, Euless, Fort Worth, Grapevine, Haltom City, Hurst, Mansfield, North Richland Hills, our Advocacy Teams need you. If you know elected or government officials, our Advocacy Teams, need you. If you would like to be on an advocacy team, contact Perry Pillow at ppillow@aatcnet.org or (817) 616-0354.

My involvement with AATC has allowed me to meet with Congress members, mayors, county officials, and state representatives. From these meetings, I have discovered five keys to effective advocacy. If you want to ride for the AATC brand, I recommend you:

First, become passionate about the issues that impact your bottom-line. Frankly, too many of our peers are passive and reactive when it comes to politics. It is essential that you put in the effort to understand what city councils, the legislature, and congress are doing to our livelihoods. AATC’s advocacy program can help you focus that passion and turn it into action.

Second, you must be persistent. There is no vacation or slow season when it comes to advocacy. Any given Tuesday, a city council can enact a law that is detrimental to your business. We must be a constant presence at city council meetings, political fundraisers, and town hall meetings. We cannot slack-off on PAC fundraising efforts. Our legislature does not convene until January 2021, but now is the time to meet with state representatives and state senators before heading to Austin.

Third, you must be persuasive. Politicians hear from numerous stakeholders and constituents about issues that impact our industry. It is crucial that we make factual, persuasive arguments. We must not be so naïve to think that we will win-over elected officials based solely on the merits of our positions. It is politics, so facts do not necessarily carry the day. Nevertheless, we must know what we need, why we need it, and how it will benefit our industry and the broader community. Do not be afraid to close the deal by asking for and elected official’s vote for them to take a specific action.

Fourth, you must be professional. When you meet with elected officials or their staff, you must conduct yourself in a professional manner. Simple things like wearing appropriate business attire (that’s your black full-quill ostrich boots) and saying “thank you,” and respectfully addressing the elected officials by their title go a long way to fostering the image of the multifamily business as a profession.

Finally, you have to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. Timing is everything in advocacy,

For the past year, I have had the privilege to chair AATC’s Government Affair Committee (GAC). From my perspective, I assure you that AATC works hard to ensure that our advocacy efforts are the best in the nation.

When it comes to AATC advocacy efforts, it is a team effort; there are no lone rangers. We’re better together.

John Gillespie, WAK Management, is the AATC Government Affairs Committee Chair. For more information, contact Perry Pillow at ppillow@aatcnet.org.