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RISMEDIA, May 29, 2008-What population has a trillion dollars in annual buying power? The U.S. Department of Labor tells us it is Americans with disabilities.

Last week at NAR Mid-year, the Equal Opportunity / Cultural Diversity Forum had a full house as it broke new ground on this topic. The Forum expanded the typical view of diversity to include people with disabilities, what constitutes “special needs” housing, and what role as Realtors® is needed to not only find the homes, land and multi- family buildings that can be used for this population’s housing needs, but also its key role as a community resource.

This session was the brainchild of Teri Spiro, CENTURY 21 Town & Country Birmingham MI, the Forum chairperson. Spiro has a one-year-old grandson with Autism. Interestingly, Spiro had already been volunteering for three years for a Metro Detroit group of Realtors®, lenders and affiliates who have supported housing for people with disabilities.

Kyle Lambert London, manager, Community Outreach Education, NAR Government Affairs Office, sees NAR as being a resource for other Realtors and home buyers to tap into local non-profit housing providers, special disability financing programs, and information on barrier-free housing and modifications and more. She is planning to post the forum information online.

David Layne, the special guest speaker, has been working on housing issues for persons with disabilities for nearly 20 years. After lining up group homes for the state of Michigan, he later worked with several counties and non-profit housing providers to create, find and fund more independent living situations for people and families dealing with disabilities.

During the last 10 years, Layne has focused on helping to raise awareness and funds to strengthen the capacity of non-profit housing providers, culminating in having an Official Sanctioned “Super Bowl” charity event in Metro Detroit that had over 300 attendees and brought in nearly $80,000 in 2006.

Layne gave the following advice to Realtors looking to expand into this emerging market:

1. Team up with a local non-profit housing provider, already tapping into funding mechanisms like Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) Down Payment Assistance Grants, HUD 811 Disability Funding (up to 14 units), and your State’s HOME funds or Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

2. Fannie Mae Home Choice loans have more flexible underwriting for people with disabilities.

3. The future will see more “town” style housing developments where there is retail commercial support districts at the front of a development, single family homes, condos, and a portion of the development “set aside” for housing for people with disabilities, and seniors. This “mixed use” development opens the door to more funding options for the developer.

4. Have a special Disability Housing tab on your website, listing local advocacy groups, local special needs housing providers, and your Realtors willing to specialize in this population.

5., a resource site on children with disabilities, tells us seven out of 10 Americans are either directly affected by a disability or have a family member, friend or associate with a disability. So your current sphere of influence database already has a lot of people who will benefit from your involvement. Now start adding local housing providers, advocacy groups, human service agencies and more who will all love your helping their consumers successfully find their “special needs” housing. What a great way to keep gaining more and more customers for life.

Layne has been a licensed Realtor since 1977, has been Director of Career Development & Director of Recruiting at two “Top 100” Billion Dollar Residential Brokers. Layne now is Growth Coach for PCMS Consulting, a real estate consulting firm, specializing in recruiting, mergers & acquisitions, profitability & franchising issues for real estate brokers throughout North America.

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