The affordable housing sector is beginning to recognize the value of offering new social programs to its residents. By converting underutilized space at their communities, property owners can promote the health advantages of an active lifestyle. Avanath Capital Management remodeled available space at two of its communities in the Washington, D.C., area and transformed them into exam rooms where senior residents can get free checkups from a nurse practitioner. Furthermore, they launched Activate, a health and wellness program rolled out at the 110-unit Vistas at Lake Largo in Upper Marlboro, Md., and the 148-unit Manor at Victoria Park in Temple Hills, Md.
Multi-Housing News reached out to Vice President of Fund Management & Impact Investing Committee Chair Ada Arevalo and Senior Asset Manager & Impact Investing Committee Vice Chair Alicia Bramble to discuss the Washington, D.C., multifamily market and how lifestyle programs can lead to better resident retention.
A recent Yardi Matrix report found that the Washington, D.C., multifamily market has largely underperformed against U.S. averages for the better part of this cycle. What are your views on the market? What about the affordable housing market in particular?
Arevalo: Washington, D.C., has continued to be a very strong market overall, especially in the affordable housing category. In our D.C. assets, we have not seen the type of swing the Yardi Matrix report is showing, which is a testament to our niche strategy. In fact, demand for affordable housing throughout D.C. continues to outpace supply, driving more and more demand to our assets. The demand for affordable housing, especially with rising rents and a widening wage gap, is unmet in most markets across the nation and therefore, this asset class is often unaffected by varying business cycles and performs in times of economic growth and uncertainty.
Please tell us more about the latest lifestyle and health services that attract and retain tenants and how the Washington, D.C., market has adapted to this trend.
Bramble: It is no secret that there has been an amenities race throughout the multifamily industry over the last several years. Many of these amenities are now shifting towards programs and services. Historically, in all of our assets, we’ve incorporated a variety of social programs that enhance resident life, whether it is coffee hours, gardening clubs and bingo nights in our senior communities, after-school programs and tutoring for kids in our family communities or financial literacy programs for adults.
Our Activate program is an extension of this and is at the forefront of these types of services as it relates to health and wellness. By providing free, on-site access to a plethora of vital health screenings and services including blood pressure screenings, cholesterol screenings and other preventative health services, we are creating a strong retention tool for our residents as this program allows them to age in place.
The biggest retention loss for senior properties today is a shift towards assisted living facilities as residents age. This program allows residents to stay at our properties longer and focuses on keeping residents healthy, which most importantly, encourages a happier, healthier lifestyle for residents, as well as an increased bottom line for our investors.
Arevalo: By 2030, all of the Baby Boomer generation will be older than 65. This will have a significant impact on the multifamily industry and the affordable housing industry. This is the first generation to work longer and it’s extremely important to them to be active longer. Aging in place is a huge tagline for us and it’s one of the motivators of this program.
In which way does your program stand out and what are the first results, two months after launching it?
Bramble: This program stands out because it’s the first on-site health program that is geared toward both bringing awareness about a healthy lifestyle and providing our residents with assistance in mitigating some of their health issues. There do not appear to be any other operators in the multifamily space that are doing this. Residents don’t have to make doctor’s appointments or go anywhere to receive these services. They can simply schedule a time to speak one-on-one with a health-care professional on site, which is incredibly helpful.
Two months into the launch, about 35 percent of our residents at these two communities are already participating in a variety of activities. Beyond the health screenings, the program also includes classes on important topics such as medication, cholesterol and diabetes management, fall prevention and balancing, healthy eating habits and nutritional cooking. We have actually received testimonials from residents saying that they feel an improvement in their health already.
How long did it take to implement the program and what can you tell us about the investment?
Bramble: The renovations to Manor at Victoria Park and Vistas at Lake Largo to incorporate an on-site exam room and wellness center took about three months and the entire program took about a year to develop. The University of Maryland Capital Region Health is our partner that will aid in offering the vital health screenings and health education classes and COR Community Development is our partner in providing the wellness components of the program.
Arevalo: This investment worked perfectly for the program because of the area, the need and the demographics. Both assets are age-restricted to 62 and over and they are both income-restricted to 50 to 60 percent of the area median. We’re filling a great need for older, lower income residents.
What are your long-term plans with this program?
Bramble: Our long-term plans are to continuously measure the impact of the program and alter it according to resident feedback. We want to ensure that we are offering a program that truly addresses our residents’ needs. If we need to add or omit an activity or component of the program, we are willing to do so. Our plans are to definitely roll this program out on a wider scale to all of our senior properties portfolio-wide.
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How do you see these types of programs unfolding in the next few years in the Washington, D.C., area?
Bramble: This type of program will unfold not only in the D.C. area, but also nationwide in the multifamily space. Owners/operators will see what a huge impact these services have on the residents, the community and the extended amount of time seniors stay in independent living before moving on to assisted living.
Arevalo: Residents are not looking for just a place to live. They’re looking for a true residence, one that addresses health, education, the environment etc. We are at the forefront of the senior wave with Activate, but we hope to continue to see a lot more owners/operators incorporating programs like these into their investments.