Energizing the industry

by Patricia Baumer

Today’s political environment requires input from politically savvy constituents who have developed strong relationships with lawmakers. But no lawmaker will act because of the support of one person, no matter the relationship. Lawmakers seek to build consensus and we – the real estate industry – can show widespread support for our position by acting collectively.

Navigating the political waters in a post-pandemic world presents new challenges for those hoping to connect with lawmakers on issues impacting the real estate industry. While the State House has reopened, large annual lobby days when constituents from across Massachusetts converged on Beacon Hill to educate lawmakers remain on hold.

This creates an opportunity for real estate professionals to get creative and network with legislators locally. Most legislators hold office hours in the district they represent. They will often reserve space in a municipal building or even a local coffee shop to provide a convenient location to meet with constituents without traveling to Boston. Legislators may advertise office hours in the local paper or on their campaign website. You can also call your legislator’s State House office to inquire about office hours. It is not unusual for senators with large districts to have an office in the district which also creates an opportunity to connect.

The Massachusetts Legislature operates in a two-year legislative cycle and this year is an election year when many lawmakers will be hitting the campaign trail.   Since many issues may never come up in a campaign, they need to learn the nuances of an issue and how it practically impacts your business. 

Making a thoughtful personal connection with a legislator through face-to-face contact is perhaps the most impactful way that you can show that you care about that issue. Since legislators are often inundated with email, a short one-page handwritten letter or note may stand out more because fewer people will take the time to send one. A persuasive, well-written letter that is full of facts but short and concise will help demonstrate you are a voter from the district who cares deeply about an issue.

For the next several weeks the legislature will work hastily to finish a backlog of business. While the current legislative cycle does not officially end until new legislators take the oath of office in January, full formal sessions end midnight on July 31st. Anything complex or controversial that requires a roll call vote will be decided before they adjourn.

In addition to the big picture items like the annual operating budget, several conference committees are working to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation passed on climate, marijuana, mental health, sports betting and improvements at the long-term care homes for veterans. Recent Supreme Court decisions have also put pressure on lawmakers to respond before they adjourn.

Precedent-setting laws that add to the cost of housing and complicate the transaction remain a threat to the industry. Home Rule authority was granted to cities and towns in 1966. It was designed to enhance self-governance for cities and towns but is increasingly used to advance old ideas that harm the market such rent control, tenant right to purchase or a real estate sales tax. Being engaged locally serves as an early warning system to legislators on these issues.

As lawmakers consider a myriad of issues, one thing is perfectly clear — the decisions they make will impact our industry and how well we are able to perform in the future. While our democratic government allows us to make our voice heard in politics, the key is to make certain that those viewpoints are heard and clearly understood by lawmakers. 

Lastly, remember that at little thanks goes a long way. Legislators get a lot of criticism and not a lot of appreciation. Be the exception. A personal connection with a simple thank you sets you apart and goes a long way to building goodwill in the future.

Patricia Baumer, is the director of government affairs for the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

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