Realtors Rally Near Capitol Hill to Save Homeownership

Realtors rallied in the nation's capital to keep housing at the top of pols' priorities.

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WASHINGTON, D.C.— A sea of blue lapped against the foot of the Washington Monument Thursday as more than 10,000 blue-shirted Realtors from across the country descended on the nation's capital to pressure Congress to keep housing at the top of legislators' priorities in coming months.

According to organizers, the rally—sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and complete with a jumbotron, DJ, and its own Twitter hashtag—was the largest assembly of Realtors NAR has ever recorded in one place.

"We have never done anything of this magnitude," said Tom Salomone, master of ceremonies and candidate for 2016 NAR president. "[It shows] we're the voice of real estate."

[See photos of NAR's Rally to Protect the American Dream.]

Prior to the main attractions, which included speeches by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson (a 3rd generation Realtor himself) of Georgia, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun, and House minority whip Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, decked-out attendees hoisted their state flags and a bevy of banners emblazoned with phrases such as "I am the Realtor Party," "Revitalize Real Estate," "We Put the 'Home' in Oklahoma," and "Homeownership Matters."

An add-on event to one of the Association's yearly meetings, the rally emphasized a housing recovery as key to an overall economic rebound.

"The housing market was the beginning point of the spear going into the recession and it will be the spear leading us out," Isakson told U.S. News in an interview prior to the rally, adding that housing makes up about 15 percent of the economic activity in the nation. "It's that gross domestic product that needs a boost and it's housing that's going to take us from where we are to where we want to go."

"We may rally today for an hour or two, but the investment in real estate is worth a lifetime," Isakson added.

NAR's chief economist Lawrence Yun echoed Isakson's remarks saying that a recovery in the housing market will precede a more robust recovery in the broader economy.

"A housing recovery leads to an economic recovery," Yun said. "No obstacles should be placed just as the market is recovering."

Touting their slogans near Congress' doorstep, the rally focused much of its rhetoric on lawmakers. Yun stressed the importance of the mortgage interest deduction, saying it should not be used as a "piggy bank" to pay down the country's $16 trillion debt.

"We want to leave an impression on Congress that the dream of homeownership is something they shouldn't tamper with," said Jon Wolford, manager at Long and Foster Real Estate in Northern Virginia and chairman elect of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors. "Housing is an issue that affects everyone, not just homeowners. [It affects] folks who rent homes, investors, and the local marketplace."

[Read: Spring Housing Markets Showing The Most Bounce.]

But beyond the economic benefits of homeownership—experts estimate more than $50,000 is pumped into local economies with each home purchase—much more is at stake than simply owning a piece of property, participants said.

"Homeownership is what this country has always been about," said Moe Veissi, president of the National Association of Realtors. "When you put people in homes you strengthen America."

"Homeownership in America is not just an economic engine, it's a social, cultural fabric that fits us all together," he added.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.