Advocacy, Education Take Center Stage at Annual Legislative Conference

Magazine ,

By Randa Griffin


More than 160 members of the Florida Apartment Association gathered in Tallahassee for three days of meetings, education, and advocacy during the 2018 FAA Legislative Conference, January 29-31. This year’s conference focused on three legislative priorities: Full funding of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund; clarification of the state’s fire code as it pertains to doorstep trash services; and specifying requirements for residents to carry renters insurance. The conference also provided members opportunities to reconnect and network, and raised $7,900 for FAA’s Apartment Political Action Committee (APAC).

Day one of the conference was dedicated to the first module of the 2018 Leadership Lyceum program. Lyceum students spent the day engrossed in interactive informational sessions to learn more about how FAA operates and to prepare students for leadership roles in FAA or their local affiliates.

“Learning about the process has been a totally new experience,” said Lyceum participant Elaine Maldonado. “It’s been a big eye-opener.”

Students socialized and networked with each other throughout the day and at a Leadership Lyceum dinner with several of FAA’s leaders.

Day two provided students the opportunity to fulfill additional requirements of the lyceum program, by attending meetings of the FAA Legislative Committee and the FAA Board of Directors. Other FAA governing panels also met, including the Executive Committee, APAC Board of Directors, Association Executives’ Council, Editorial Advisory Committee, Bylaws Task Force, and Masters Steering Committee.

The day culminated in a legislative briefing session to educate and inform conference attendees about FAA’s legislative priorities: full funding for the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and bills regarding Renters Insurance (HB 467, SB 678) and Doorstep Trash Collection (HB 529, SB 746).

Following a message from briefing sponsor Resman, awards for the 2017 FAA Legislators of the Year were presented by Lori Trainer, FAA president, and Bonnie Smetzer, FAA vice president and Legislative Committee chair. The awards recognized Sen. Tom Lee (R-20) and Rep. Colleen Burton (R- 40) for sponsoring FAA priority legislation to protect the 10 percent cap on assessments of non-homestead properties, including apartment communities. Upon accepting her award, Burton thanked FAA members for their support of the issue and encouraged them to continue working to ensure voters pass a 2018 referendum on the cap. Greg Blose, director of the Florida Chamber Board of Governors, accepted on behalf of Lee. 

Marian Johnson, vice president of the Florida Chamber Political Institute described Florida’s changing demographics and how they will impact future elections. She also discussed what to expect from the 2018 elections at the federal level, as well as the state level, where all 120 representative seats and 40 senate seats will be up for election. Johnson emphasized the importance of political action committees such as APAC and its financial support of candidates who support the apartment industry.

Next, FAA government affairs director Courtney Barnard explained the importance of full funding for the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which supports building and renovating affordable apartments through the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program. Barnard also explained how the proposed renters insurance legislation would benefit apartment residents as well as owners.

Jeff Johnston, a lobbyist for Valet Living, spoke about proposed legislation to clarify the state’s fire code as it relates to doorstep trash collection.

Animated videos illustrated the issues and the potential impact of legislation, and helped prepare attendees for the following day’s visits to the Statehouse. Heather Alzate said she felt well-informed and confident after the briefing.

“The bills are very clear this year. There’s not as much gray area, so it makes it easier to advocate,” Alzate said.

Attendees also participated in a Q&A with FAA lobbyist Kelly Mallette, who shared insider information about the workings of the legislative session. Mallette was followed by Angi Pusateri, APAC Chair, who highlighted the importance of contributing to APAC.

At the end of the briefing, members broke into affiliate groups to practice lobbying and to caucus on the issues, then enjoyed a cocktail reception, which included a silent auction that raised $1,550 for APAC.

On Wednesday morning, attendees armed with the previous evening’s information and leave-behind brochures, headed to the state Capitol to meet with legislators and staffers representing the various affiliates’ districts. This year’s conference had the highest attendance to date, and members agreed there’s power in numbers.

“It’s a definite advantage to have as many people here as we do,” said Darren Ayoub. “It shows we have a lot of involvement at home and members are involved year-round.”

Ayoub works as an attorney who represents apartment owners and managers, so he knows the impact these bills can have.

“In my daily work I see how these bills and laws affect clients,” he said. “This gives me the opportunity to advocate change that will make a difference.”

Jessica Romero of CORT said if she wasn’t there, there’d be one less voice to speak up.

“This is important because there are so many bills that go across these representatives’ and senators desks every day. Being able to speak to them face-to-face makes our issues important to them,” she said.

FAA members from all 10 affiliates advocated their position on key pieces of legislation and expressed to legislators the importance of these bills for individuals, the apartment industry, and Florida’s economy.

“We need to make our voice known,” said Nancy Lovell of Balfour Beatty Communities. “We’re all fighting for the same cause so when you come up here and see everyone, you realize there’s a lot to fight for.”