What’s up with the realtors?

Realtors are funny political creatures. Like developers, they are a logical political force in just about any community where private property exists. It’s often assumed that their interests align with developers, but I’m not so sure.

The only position that you can count on realtors for is support for regressive tax policy that incentivizes homeownership, such as the federal mortgage interest deduction or, locally, the homestead exemption.

Locally, I think realtors have a range of opinions. That’s because your opinions on what creates a strong local housing market tend to align with your natural political inclinations about what is most valuable in a community. A friendly business environment? Strong schools? Good public transit? Strict zoning that promotes single-family neighborhoods? Shopping malls? Dense, walkable communities? The Austin Board of Realtors has been a vocal proponent of land use reform, but honestly, I don’t know why that issue matters much to realtors. Listing agents probably like inflated home prices.

Over the last couple years, the Austin Board of Realtors has taken a decidedly liberal bent. Its current CEO, Emily Chenevert, told me a while back that it is a “progressive” organization. Veteran Democratic strategist Amy Everhart directs its political activities. Its City Hall lobbyist, Andrei Lubomudrov, is a bleeding heart liberal. The group contributed heavily to the affordable housing bond campaign. It even supported the paid sick leave ordinance (which included an exemption for independent contractors, such as real estate brokers).

And yet, the group is also backing Frank Ward, the Republican who is in a runoff against Dem Paige Ellis to represent District 8 (Southwest burbs) on Council. That endorsement, however, was not engineered by the leadership, but by the volunteer members who sit on the group’s legislative committee, some of whom are Republicans and many of whom have warm feelings for Ellen Troxclair, the current occupant of the seat, who is a fellow realtor herself. Troxclair is pulling hard for Ward to replace her as Council’s only conservative.

In the runoff, ABoR has reported spending $78,715 on printing expenses to promote Ward, Pio Renteria and Natasha Harper-Madison. However, it’s not clear from the campaign finance report whether that spending was divided evenly between all three candidates.

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