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NAR looks to Congress for action on housing inventory

But is anyone listening?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) badly wants the federal government to goose housing inventory.  

“The number one issue is inventory,” said Shannon McGahn, chief advocacy officer for the trade group. “It is a very stressful experience for your clients.”

“The elephant in the room is supply,” said Bryan Greene, vice president of policy advocacy at NAR.

Greene and McGahn on Monday were addressing a cavernous ballroom of hundreds of real estate agents and brokers. They were assembled for the trade group’s annual legislative meeting at the National Harbor convention center in Maryland.

But it’s murky what NAR can do, given “things aren’t moving legislatively,” as Greene put it.

They are not. Congress has enacted 113 items of legislation during the session that began January 2021 and is set to end January 2023, according to GovTrack.US. That compares to 344 legislative items during the previous session, to say nothing of the hundreds of bills Congress routinely passed per session in the 1990s and 2000s.

The inaction on housing inventory raises questions about how the thousands of real estate agents who have flooded Capitol Hill this week (or, more precisely, a convention center with a giant Ferris wheel miles from Capitol Hill) can best spend their time.

NAR’s legislative meeting is chock full of events on everything from fair housing to environmental land-use concerns, with a mammoth board of directors meeting scheduled for Friday. But the group, with a membership of 1.5 million dues-paying real estate agents, plus nearly every real estate brokerage, is seeing little progress on their legislative agenda — at least in Congress.

McGahn stressed that lobbying members of Congress in person provides valuable face time that could make a long-term impression.

“We need to do consumer-focused efforts like a first-time homebuyer program,” McGahn said. “A lot of staffers on Capitol Hill are buying homes for the first time.”

In theory, if anyone can influence Washington, it’s NAR. The group routinely places first or second, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the entity that spends the most on lobbying.

But NAR’s stranglehold on setting the policies behind the homes that do get sold — in how homes are listed through multiple listings services, in how commissions are paid by consumers and shared by agents — is being challenged in multiple court cases.

In perhaps the most pressing matter, a federal judge last week certified a class of hundreds of thousands of homebuyers in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois in a lawsuit about commissions. NAR said it plans to appeal the ruling — even as the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division quietly continues to investigate real estate commissions.

NAR’s leadership did not address these legal challenges in its afternoon sessions. It is not clear when, or if, leadership will publicly tackle these issues.

As for specific ideas to improve housing inventory, NAR noted a few proposals that have stalled legislatively. These include the Greater Revitalization of Shopping Centers Act, which would provide federal grants to communities to convert underutilized or abandoned malls into housing.

There’s also the Revitalizing Downtowns Act, the same idea, except it’s focused on office buildings instead of malls. Other proposals include the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, “which would offer tax credits to attract private investment for building and rehabilitating owner-occupied homes.”

Each of these proposals were sent to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee in 2021. However, all have failed to muster enough support to get on the calendar for a vote and are currently stuck in committee.

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