The time has arrived for the San Diego-based National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals to enter the political beltway.
The organization is planning to launch its lobbying efforts in support of Hispanic homeownership from the nation’s mecca of political lobbying , K Street in Washington, D.C.
The fastest growing real estate trade organization in the country, representing a segment of the fastest growing population in the country, has elected John Sepulveda as its new chief executive officer. He is a Washington, D.C.-based policy expert charged with helping NAHREP change focus and change coasts. As a result, the organization plans to move its headquarters to Washington, D.C., this year.
“This is a migration that we always knew would take place,” said Gary Acosta, the chairman and co-founder of NAHREP. “We’ve always realized we had to play a bigger role with respect to public policy related to housing, and being in Washington will give us a more visible position to do that.”
The nonprofit 14,000-member trade association, founded in San Diego in 1999 by Acosta, a local mortgage banker, and his partner Ernest Reyes, is currently operating out of a small office in Mission Valley. But having grown from 1,000 members and a single local chapter in its founding year to more than 14,000 members and 38 chapters, NAHREP intends to continue expanding its government ties and beefing up its lobbying presence in Washington, as a representative of Hispanic homeowners nationwide.
The need for an organization such as NAHREP has increased in step with its rapid membership growth, based on demographic changes in the U.S. housing market. As of the latest study by NAHREP on Hispanic home sales by state, Hispanics comprised 18 percent of annual home sales in California in 2000 , a significant share of the market compared with roughly 8 percent nationally.
In the next 20 years, Hispanics are expected to make up 40 percent of all first-time home buyers, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Approximately 1.5 million Latino households will buy homes by 2010, according to a research paper produced by the Tomas Rivera Policy Center at the University of Southern California and reported by NAHREP. The same study found that roughly 700,000 additional households could become homeowners if the housing industry offered bilingual outreach, counseling and access to innovative mortgage products.
Significant barriers exist to deter Hispanics from becoming home buyers, including the lack of relationships with financial institutions, lack of credit due to credit scoring challenges, and difficulty in finding a trustworthy adviser.
These are among the challenges enumerated by Sepulveda, NAHREP’s newly appointed leader, who intends to serve as the organization’s voice in Washington, to effect the policy changes to deal with some of these issues.
As a housing industry veteran, seasoned policy analyst, former White House staffer and renowned representative of Latino advocacy, Sepulveda approaches the task with seemingly little trepidation.
As far as resumes go, his is one that would leave most policy junkies awe-struck.
After having studied political science in Yale University’s Ph.D. program in Connecticut, Sepulveda entered the realm of state politics and later moved on to Washington, where he worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Henry Cisneros. He then temporarily served in the Clinton White House Office of Presidential Personnel, helping to select the president’s second-term transition leadership team, and was later nominated by Clinton to become the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a position for which Sepulveda had to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1998.
Since 2001, Sepulveda has worked for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, a Fortune 50 company, where he has launched national initiatives for increasing homeownership among minorities. He currently serves as the director of industry and housing outreach.
Sepulveda’s appointment last month as NAHREP’s first “real CEO,” according to Acosta, catapulted NAHREP to a new level of national recognition. He replaced Moe Vella, who served the organization for one year and whose official title was executive director.
Sepulveda said the objective of the organization is simple, and will remain the same under his leadership: “to increase the rate of homeownership among Hispanics by educating and empowering the real estate professionals that work with this underserved community.” He is hoping to place a greater emphasis on education.
To this end, the association is launching NAHREP University , a set of courses that will be available to NAHREP members online to provide what Sepulveda calls professional skills development, addressing such topics as how to build your own business and how to analyze real estate market trends in your area.
As the first Hispanic organization for real estate practitioners, NAHREP has taken on the significant challenge of educating a range of real estate industry professionals , about 60 percent of its members are real estate agents working with Hispanic home buyers and 25 percent are involved in the mortgage industry. Not all of the organization’s members are Hispanic, according to Acosta, who estimates that more than 1,000 of its members are not of Hispanic ethnicity.
For Sepulveda, though, “it’s the grass-roots quality of this organization that really stands out.”
At the recent opening of a local NAHREP chapter in the Inland Empire, Sepulveda recalled a children’s skit performed during the opening day ceremony, in which a working class Hispanic family has just been told that their landlord will raise the rent. The children broach the subject of homeownership to the parents and mention that NAHREP is a national organization that has local members who can provide information about how to buy a home. By the end of the skit, the parents are convinced that the option of owning a home may be a reality.
“It was genuine and kind of symbolized for me personally, and for the people in the audience, what this was all about,” Sepulveda said.
He said that moving NAHREP’s headquarters from San Diego to Washington, D.C., is necessary.
“We need to be in the nation’s capital to have sufficient power over public policy. This is where other major trade associations are located as well, and being in D.C. will help us strengthen our links with them.”
Although NAHREP was doing some lobbying at the congressional level while in San Diego, according to Sepulveda, it was not a consistent effort.
At NAHREP’s third annual legislative conference in Washington at the end of this month, the 500 to 600 members expected to attend will feel a tangible change in the tenor of the organization. Sepulveda said he is in the final stages , as of now, it is “semi-confirmed” , of arranging a briefing at the White House with the president; an impressive demonstration from the newly minted CEO.
“My job is to help get the organization to the next level to help grow it and to become more a voice on policy matters on behalf of our communities,” he said.
Although San Diego will cease to be the headquarters for NAHREP, Acosta said the local office will remain open and staffed. “This is not a surprise move,” he said. “We consider it more of a natural transition.”