NAGLREP Policy Advisor John Graff Goes to Washington DC
John Graff is one of the most interesting people in NAGLREP. And not just because he has made a transition from agent to broker/owner where his Ashby & Graff Real Estate in Los Angeles, which he founded in 2018, now has 80 agents.
He is fascinating too because of how he melded his real estate career with his love for politics and the behind-the-scenes policy work that goes into it.
Those world’s recently collided when he was sitting at his desk while speaking with one of his agents when he noticed an email pop up from Gaston Araoz-Riveros, a regional representative with Senator Tim Kaine’s office.
The email was an invitation for John to represent NAGLREP at a coming working breakfast meeting with the Senator to discuss a variety of topics including LGBT homeownership and fair housing concerns, source of income challenges and affordable housing.
“We had just worked together in getting Senator Kaine to give the Keynote address at the NAGLREP LGBT Housing Policy Summit in April,” John said. “They were very impressed with NAGLREP and how we were able to raise awareness for the Equality Act within the real estate community. The Senator had previously worked as a fair housing attorney in Virginia and is very active in this space today. He is also a true ally of the LGBT community.”
Luckily, the meeting, which included a small group of leaders from other entities like National Housing Law Project, Equal Rights Center, National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME), would be held on Monday prior to the NAR Midyear meetings which John already planned to attend. John quickly called NAGLREP founder Jeff Berger with the news and changed his already scheduled DC travel plans.
“Honestly my first thought was about NAGLREP and the pride we all should have in how far we have come,” John said. “We have definitely emerged as a major player in LGBT policy circles and this was just another example. It really is impressive to see how valued NAGLREP is. We are definitely being noticed because of our Policy Summit, LGBT Real Estate Report and because so many of the local chapters are now fully engaged with local HRC and NGLCC groups.”
John, who previously worked on Howard Dean and Chris Dodd’s campaigns for President, sat with Senator Kaine and six others for an in-depth conversation at Freddie’s, an Arlington, VA Italian restaurant that was opened specifically for the Senator and his party.
“Senator Kaine is friendly with the owner and has been coming for years,” John said. “Just down the street is the guy’s other restaurant, Freddie’s Beach Bar which is a well known gay bar in the area. This was not a press event or a photo opp. It wasn’t contrived. The Senator was interested and extremely engaged. A U.S. Senator doesn’t give up two hours of his time like this unless they are really interested. In Senator Kaine’s case, he is updating legislation he previously wrote with retired Utah Senator Orin Hatch to outlaw housing discrimination based on source of income. He also recently reintroduced a bill that is similar to the Equality Act but more narrowly focused on housing discrimination.”
At the start of the meeting, John admitted to wondering if his love of policy and his constant reading about issues and consuming data would be enough to keep up with the Senator and the others at the table.
“At the start of the meeting, I definitely had the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ wondering if I really belonged,” John said. “But once I started sharing information from NAGLREP’s Housing Report and dove a bit into the Equality Act, I saw I and NAGLREP belonged.”
Graff pointed out to the group that the Equality Act being passed by the House is a huge step, but even if it becomes law, the LGBT community must not rest on its laurels. John showcased data about how African American homeownership levels actually have dropped since the Fair Housing Act became law 50 years ago.
“I was able to do a few things in the meeting,” John said. “I pointed out that the LGBT community does care about fair housing with a strong focus on looking for homes in welcoming communities. I also shared how far beyond the Equality Act we will have to go to eliminate housing discrimination against the LGBT community and others. It will be important for HUD to be a proactive force and actively be out finding those who are discriminating in housing. There is already a mechanism in the Fair Housing Act that allows for this. The Obama administration utilized this but the current administration has returned to HUD being reactive only.”
Senator Kaine shared with the group that he believes the path to getting the Equality Act passed in the Senate will have to focus on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s need to give Republican moderates like Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Maine’s Susan Collins a way to show they are listening to their more moderate constituents.
“He admitted it is going to be a tough fight, but not impossible,” John said. “The key is getting Mitch McConnell to see political value in bringing the Equality Act to the Senator floor. It really was incredible to hear a U.S. Senator in such a casual atmosphere talk with such insight about the importance of eliminating discrimination against the LGBT community and how it can be championed at the Federal level. It should be really rewarding to all of us in NAGLREP to know that we have someone like Senator Kaine fighting for us.”