The Big Picture

by Michael Payne, Allmark, AATC's Government Affairs Chair

If I asked you to take a picture of the city where you were born, what would it look like?  What significant buildings, cultural icons, landmarks, or natural features would be in your home-town portrait?  Would your birthplace be instantly recognized or so obscure that it doesn’t appear on Google Maps? Who is in the picture?  Family, friends, pets, no one?

Most importantly, what is missing from your picture?

I’m sure your hometown is a wonderful place, but I’m also certain that something is missing in your photograph. What’s missing from your photo?  My guess is that you did not put apartments in your picture.  Frankly, neither would I nor any of our industry colleagues.

If we multifamily professionals do not put apartments in the picture when we think about places near and dear to us, then I guarantee that government officials do not consider apartments when they think about the cities they serve.  Mayor Betsy Price does not think about apartments when she imagines Fort Worth; neither does Mayor Jeff Williams when he speaks about Arlington or Mayor Eric Johnson when he contemplates Dallas.

Our challenge as multifamily industry professionals is to put apartments in the picture. We do that first by personally becoming involved in AATC’s advocacy efforts.  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 government affairs efforts are the best in the nation.  AATC members and staff are active at the federal, state, and local government levels.  This year, AATC members have traveled to Washington, D.C., and Austin to pro-actively advocate on behalf of our industry.

As the Bedford lawsuit reminded us, politics is a rough and tumble, full-contact endeavor. Our industry is constantly 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 picture of 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.

My involvement with AATC has afforded me the opportunity to meet with members of Congress, mayors, county officials, and state representatives.  From these meetings, I have discovered five keys to effective advocacy—ways to put and keep apartments in the picture.

First, you must be passionate about the issues that impact your bottom-line.  Frankly, too many of our peers are passive and reactive when it comes to politics.  I’m passionate about photography.  I invest my time and money to be the best photographer I can be.  Likewise, it is essential that we 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 they head 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’s 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 an 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, it is vital that you conduct yourself in a professional manner.  Simple things like wearing appropriate, business attire, 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. AATC President Nicolle Block recently hosted an Arlington City Council member for a property tour.  As always, President Nicolle was professional and courteous.

Fifth, remember that advocacy is a partnership.  You have outstanding lobbying teams in Washington, Austin, and in Tarrant County. The NAA/NMHC, TAA, and AATC staffs are there to assist you with the information and contacts you need to be successful.  They’ll arrange the meetings and provide you with the background and briefing materials.

More importantly, you have fellow industry colleagues to rely upon. Occasionally, I’ll meet with government officials one-on-one usually with an AATC staff member.  In general, these meetings involve two or three multifamily folks.  We tag-team these meetings, playing off, building upon and adding to comments made by each other.

Finally, try to support AATC’s political action committee (AATC PAC) fundraising events: Spring Golf, Top Golf, Business Exchange, & Epicurean Dinner. Your donations to AATC’s PAC have a tremendous impact.

For information about AATC advocacy efforts, contact AATC Director of Government Affairs Perry Pillow by email at ppillow@aatcnet.orgor phone (817) 616-0353.

Michael Payne, Allmark Properties, is the AATC Government Affairs Committee Chair.