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Ernest “Ernie” Reyes, co-founder of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals — the first national trade group for Hispanics working in the real estate and housing industry, passed away this week after a brief illness, according to NAHREP. He was 73.

Reyes co-founded the association in 1999 with Gary Acosta in an effort to increase the rate of Hispanic homeownership through the support, education and advocacy of Latino real estate practitioners that serve the Hispanic community. Reyes and Acosta began the San Diego-based association with a handful of members and grew it to a 21,000 member base with 40 chapters nationwide and millions in sponsorship support from some of the industry’s leading brands.

Reyes was chairman and executive director of the NAHREP Foundation, an affiliate of the trade association that works directly with consumers to build financial literacy, education and community development. He also served as chairman of the San Diego Home Loan Counseling Center and the 9th Region Regulatory Fairness Board of the U.S. Small Business Administration — all volunteer leadership positions.

By day, Reyes was a licensed real estate broker and CEO of Network Realty and worked in the industry for 40 years. A passionate voice for Latino rights, Reyes’ activism spanned from the days of Cesar Chavez’ “Si se puede” farm workers’ campaign to advocacy for Spanish-language documents and service for Hispanic homebuyers.

“Ernie always had clarity on the issues and what changes needed to be made to advance Hispanic homeownership” says Co-founder Gary Acosta. “He was a compelling voice on public policy and the heart and soul of our organization. He will be missed greatly.”

Reyes’ political savvy started early in his career. He served as a staff member of former Congressman Leon E. Panetta who went on to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of Defense.

He is survived by his wife Patricia of 51 years, son Darren, daughter Denise and his grandchildren Monique, Mikayla, Jake, Nixon and Griffon. Plans for a memorial service are still pending.