Advocating for Stronger Communities

by Dallas Hancock
Peoria Area Association of Realtors

A healthy local business climate requires effective collaborations among a range of organizations.

Building a stronger regional economy and thriving business community requires a united effort of citizens, elected officials, and private and public organizations, including local government. A broad spectrum of partnerships, coalitions and relationships among multiple organizations are working behind the scenes to develop programs that strengthen the Peoria community.

The Peoria Area Association of Realtors (PAAR) is just one of many organizations that place a high priority on advocacy as part of its mission. PAAR is the local association of the National Association of Realtors—the largest professional trade association in the United States, representing more than one million members. It advocates on behalf of property owners as it works to build stronger communities by monitoring legislative and regulatory issues that affect homeowners and the real estate industry.

“Realtors do more than list and sell property. They are community builders dedicated to improving their towns, cities, states and America,” explains Becky Peterson, president of PAAR. “The Realtor association is working every day to promote economic development, as well as protect the rights of property owners at city hall, the county level, the state capitol in Springfield, and even Washington, DC.

“PAAR representatives are constantly monitoring issues related to taxation, economic development, smart growth, land use policies and other barriers to homeownership while communicating our concerns to our elected officials,” she adds.

Collaborating on the Issues
A good example of those collaborative efforts has been PAAR’s commitment to working with the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria (DDC). PAAR has an appointed representative member on the DDC’s board of directors.

Michael Freilinger, DDC president and CEO, notes PAAR has aided efforts to support the extension of Illinois’ historic tax credit program. Peoria is part of the state’s River Edge Redevelopment Zone, and developers may qualify for a statewide historic tax credit, in addition to a federal tax credit, in the redevelopment of historic buildings. However, the state historic tax credit expires at the end of this year.

“We are doing what we can to contact legislators and the Governor’s office about the importance of extending and reauthorizing the state historic tax credit beyond this year,” Freilinger says. “The Illinois Realtors Association [including PAAR] has been very supportive in helping to lobby state legislators… on this issue as well.”

In addition, Freilinger indicates the DDC often partners with other organizations to engage support on development issues. Recently, as the City of Peoria was moving to enact the 2012 International Building Code, the DDC partnered with PAAR and the Home Builders Association of Greater Peoria to review all the language and provisions in the code.

To support efforts on the advocacy front, PAAR utilizes Government Affairs Director Kristie Engerman to monitor issues and actively lobby at the city- and county-government levels in the Peoria area. She has worked with PAAR for 11 years and frequently testifies at local government meetings, providing comprehensive analysis on issues important to property owners.

“The Peoria Area Association of Realtors uses advocacy tools and resources from the Illinois Realtors Association, including legal analysis, independent research, data analysis and public opinion polling, and engages community owners and businesses on issues to make our message heard,” Engerman says. “The members of the Realtor association appreciate the importance of these efforts, investing in advocacy annually through the Illinois association. Many also invest in the Realtors Political Action Committee.”

Engerman cites another recent example of PAAR’s advocacy efforts: its involvement in the Peoria City/County Health Department’s 2013 overhaul of its septic system ordinance. “Realtors, working in collaboration with other stakeholders, were successful in helping to persuade the Peoria County Board to substantially revise its originally-proposed septic ordinance,” she notes. “After nine months of work on behalf of an Onsite Wastewater Work Group, an improved version of the septic ordinance was proposed—and ultimately approved—that protects private property owners and improves public health.”

Without active participation by Realtors in policy debates, Engerman adds, local government budgets and ordinances could put up barricades to business and threaten private property rights. “Most budgets of local government are dependent on property taxation. So, Realtors and their clients have an important stake in how the budgets are put together and how the money is being spent.”

Building Community Relationships
Realtors also work to forge relationships with other community organizations, such as area chambers of commerce and groups focused on regional economic development, including the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council (EDC), to promote business development in the Peoria area. In addition, PAAR has also been a member of the CEO Council since its inception.

The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest chambers in the state outside of the Chicago area. Jeff Griffin, president and CEO of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the CEO Council, believes in the importance of building relationships and partnerships to better inform community leaders about issues important to area businesses. “Whether on a city, state or federal level, you always want to build relationships along the way—and not just when there is a problem,” Griffin says.

The Greater Peoria EDC is a central agency advocating for business and workforce development initiatives, which helps area businesses grow and thrive. Its CEO, Jennifer Daly, works with more than 75 organizations from throughout the region to help achieve the EDC’s mission. According to Daly, the EDC provides key information and data on a continuous basis to state and federal lawmakers. “Elected officials are eager to understand the data we have and best practices in what kind of role they can play in helping us—at the ground level—implement strategies that actually lead to quality opportunities in terms of jobs,” she explains.

Area legislators agree: advocacy efforts such as these help keep them better informed on the issues—and are paramount to moving our communities forward. As State Representative Mike Unes shares, “It is impossible to overstate the importance of relationship-building with organizations and community leaders who are truly on the front lines of serving the people that I represent in the General Assembly. Relationships foster both familiarity and trust—and those elements are key when reaching out to someone for reliable and honest information that may help me make an important policy decision.”

A healthy local business climate requires the effective collaborations of city, county, state and federal officials, along with a range of organizations—including PAAR, Home Builders Association of Greater Peoria, the DDC, local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, and others—all working together to build strategic alliances that foster a vibrant community. iBi

Dallas Hancock is CEO of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors.

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