WEBSITE: HomeownersofTexas.org (no longer active)
As Communications Director, I developed the marketing collateral, messaging, website, social networks and media relations to support the startup of a new 501(c)(4) nonprofit consumer advocacy -- Homeowners of Texas, Inc. (HOT).
HOT develops and evangelizes legislative reforms that protect homeowners and provide a level playing field for dealing with contractors, homeowner associations, insurance companies, lenders, and service providers. In our first year, HOT successfully opposed powerful lobbyists from the $35 Billion Texas homebuilding industry to win new consumer protections and abolish an abusive state agency, the TRCC.
Texas had become the fastest growing homebuilding market and a
magnet for unscrupulous builders. Over many years, the powerful lobbyists of the
Texas Association of Builders got laws passed to shield contractors from
accountability and prevent lawsuits from homeowners. The result was too often
shoddy construction and the lack of any recourse among homeowners. I learned of
the problems firsthand and joined with a relative to fix them. Together, we
established and funded a small nonprofit consumer advocacy to propose
With no outside funding of our own, we took on the state’s 2nd most powerful lobbying block, a well-funded Political Action Committee, and the nation’s most prolific campaign contributor – Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. Perry had established the Texas Residential Construction Commission to regulate himself. Last session, that state agency was now up for a Sunset review, but the Sunset Commission went against the recommendations of its own staff and overwhelming public outcry. They introduced a bill designed to extend the TRCC for 6 more years. The bill, which was written by builder attorneys at an estimated cost of over $1M in legal fees, was introduced by a “friendly” representative. It was intentionally complex and deceptive and referred to various other state laws, so nothing could be read in context. It took us weeks of analysis to expose the deception. We then had to prove our case to state Senators and Representatives, knowing that all but six of them had received large campaign contributions from homebuilders. Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbot, and all 9 Texas Supreme Court Justices got builder money too. Our biggest ally was Representative David Leibowitz, a consumer attorney in San Antonio who had received no builder money.
In the end, we convinced enough lawmakers to abolish the TRCC and pass new consumer protections by requiring engineered slab foundations for homes built on expansive soil. We couldn’t have done this without the ideal mix of skills, a killer website, effective use of public relations and social media, and support from dozens of homeowners who shared their stories and testified.
This large site was a one-man effort. I chose XSitePro II as the
development tool, since it was easier than alternatives from Adobe and
Microsoft. HTML and Flash extensions were added for random images on the landing
page and slide shows, videos, mouse-overs, PayPal donations, and to fix
occasional software bugs with XSitePro. Over two years the site has grown with
over 1,000 files and a large collection of HOT News items, photos, videos,
links, case studies, white papers, and other marketing collateral that helped
make HOT effective in its legislative battle to protect homeowners.
HOT News was an especially useful section. As a nonprofit, I we could hide behind Fair Use laws and post full text of articles from mainstream media for educational purposes. I wouldn’t just post the text – each article, or collection of articles on key topics, would include highlights and analysis.
Facebook – HOT had its own Facebook fan page and persona
with a large collection of HOT friends that included some of the most
politically influential people in state and nation. I was very protective of HOT
friends and would not invite just anyone. That strategy served us well.
Twitter – This was an effective tool for announcing important changes and articles on the HOT website or elsewhere in the media but, since not everyone is a Twitter user, I’d send a weekly “HOT Tweets” summary via email that simply listed them. Most tweet s would include a short title and tinyURL pointing to the article, along with indication of if it was on the HOT site or if HOT commented on the story.
Articles & Blogs – To attract visitors to our website, I’d regularly scour the news media with help from RSS feeds and Google Alerts and then post comments on articles in the mainstream press or independent blogs, often citing alternative viewpoints and pointing back to our site for supporting information. Letters to the Editor served the same purpose. I found that media outlets that moderate comments would often reject anything critical of their publication, the media in general, or big advertisers, including the homebuilding industry.
YouTube – HOT Videos was a collection of videos that were produced and posted by me or others. I found the ability to embed YouTube videos in web pages was a great way to keep the site fresh and interesting, especially when the videos were relevant and of good quality.