By Flynann Janisse, Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp.
During your lifetime, where have you felt most at home? Like myself, I am sure that for many of you it is your childhood home, full of friends, imagination and adventure. For others, this place could be where you started your family, the first place you leased when officially on your own or maybe it is where you are today. Chances are, wherever you determine to be your most cherished home, there is an influencing factor that enriched your life’s journey.
That place has also likely changed as your needs evolved. Every favorite home is different, as each has its own special characteristics. For today’s renters, these characteristics are blended into selling points. As a former property manager, I know that part of my regular mantra on a tour was to flaunt my property’s proximity to shopping and transit, among other benefits. For example, nearby establishments with free coffee refills and Wi-Fi are at the top of the list for millennial renters starting their professional careers. In another case, a safe place for the children to be after school is more of a priority for a young family than a nearby all-night chicken and waffle restaurant.
The 2008 financial crisis that the United States experienced not only sent economic shockwaves across the globe, but also reshaped how individuals and families look for a home. Recently, the Urban Institute released a research report entitled “The Housing Affordability Gap for Extremely Low-Income Renters in 2013.” Using several sources, including the Census Bureau and HUD, the survey found that since the Great Recession two factors have added significant downward pressure on the availability of affordable housing: increased monthly rents and higher demand. Coast to coast, its research showed that regardless of state, there is simply not enough affordable housing to meet the need. In some counties, there are as few as seven units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.
As the industry looks into its crystal ball as to what tomorrow’s renters want, we must be aware of the monumental task that renters undertake in choosing a place to call home. Mindful of the lack of availability, some may resign to the thinking that meeting the needs of renters is less of a concern because simple supply and demand dictates that if one does not choose to live somewhere, another will be along shortly to fill out an application in the leasing office. However, multiple studies have shown that communities with a service-enriched housing model perform better financially. This means physical amenities are only part of the equation when evaluating what to add that will set a community apart. Budget conscious renters still want onsite dry cleaning, gyms and convenient access to transportation; however, added to renters’ shopping lists are properties that provide services which make an investment in their well-being.
To this end, Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp. (Rainbow) works with property managers and owners on a daily basis across the country to provide these enhanced services. By focusing on promoting self-sufficiency, life skills, opening doors to education and fostering long-term tenants, our served communities perform better in more than half a dozen financial benchmarks.
Just as avocado green has given way to stainless steel as the material of choice for refrigerator exteriors, the services that matter have also evolved. One factor that Rainbow knows plays a major role in the financial performance of an asset is vacancy loss and related fees or write-offs due to an eviction. Helping renters remain in their homes and move past whatever factors put them in a financial crisis is a key factor in eliminating those debits to the balance sheet. In a particular example, it became evident that renters’ employment situation was directly linked to their ability to pay their rent on time, so job training and job placement services were added. Continuing this example, it also became clear that a more formal educational structure around financial literacy was needed in order to educate residents about how best to spend and save their hard-earned paychecks. This led to a licensing and training agreement with a nationally recognized money management nonprofit educator.
Today’s renters are sophisticated, well informed and come with a list of requests that include benefits which extend beyond the physical features. Tomorrow’s renters are likely to have additional requirements as their own needs evolve. Complexes including amenities such as a service-enriched housing model are currently creating safe, affordable housing across the country. These communities are able to build in flexibility to meet changing demands, while still preserving affordability for those who need access to it most. Rainbow accomplishes this through regular resident surveys. By surveying the residents served, we offer a direct line of feedback to gather the types of services that will be seen as value-added amenities. These surveys help to continually monitor the changing needs of the population and to identify and address evolving circumstances that occur with life changes.
Flynann Janisse is executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp. Rainbow is a nonprofit organization that provides service-enriched housing programs for residents of rental housing communities throughout the country. With award-winning services available throughout the U.S., Rainbow seeks to create and preserve quality, affordable housing for families and individuals of diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds.