As the effect of the pandemic became more severe, the military housing sector had to adapt quickly and implemented additional protocols to keep both residents and employees safe, especially as maintenance operations continued. Mobile apps, online residential portals and virtual tours made it possible for staff to help residents, even when they were working remotely. One of the biggest setbacks has been the temporary halt of Permanent Change of Station implemented at the beginning of March. Military housing providers had to quickly implement changes to leases, to make sure residents in the different stages of moving were not left without a home.
Military Housing Association represents some of the most important members of the military housing public-private partnership industry, such as Balfour Beatty Communities, Hunt Military Communities, Corvias, Lincoln Military Housing and Patrician Management. Gen. John Campbell is a senior adviser for the association and talked to Multi-Housing News about what solutions the sector had to implement to overcome the pandemic-induced challenges.
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What were the biggest challenges for the military housing sector during the past 12 months?
Campbell: When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Military Housing Association member companies coordinated with the Department of Defense to immediately implement newly enacted pandemic-related local, state and federal health regulations. Housing providers followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and other guidance specific to the pandemic and adjusted operations, which included implementing additional protocols to comply with the safety standards of local installations. Deemed essential workers, the teams continued to respond to service requests, processed move-ins and move-outs and remained on-site to support the residents, even if the offices were closed to the public.
As residents welcomed us into their homes, our member companies implemented health screenings and personal protective equipment following applicable health and safety guidelines. It was important that residents felt safe if our team members had to visit their homes. As the military housing providers have maintained operations, they have worked diligently to find new virtual and other contact-free ways to continue to connect and build community with residents, since it is one of the most rewarding aspects of the work we do.
The Department of Defense’s temporary halt of Permanent Change of Station to help stop the spread of the virus saw many military families trapped in limbo. How did property management companies help?
Campbell: Some families that were ordered to stay in place had already given notice on a lease or were in the process of selling their home. Military Housing Association members worked directly with local military housing offices to assist families while they waited for reassignment orders.
Changes to lease term policies were made in order to make vacant, clean, and safe homes on military installations available for military families who were in need. Leases were extended for current residents unable to move due to the restrictions, while non-residents were able to take advantage of flexible short-term leasing options where available inventory allowed. Our members diligently provided housing solutions for military families until they could successfully transition to their next home.
What new technologies have property management companies implemented to help keep residents and employees safe?
Campbell: Early investments to introduce mobile resident apps and upgraded online resident portals positioned the sector’s leading companies to continue serving residents during the pandemic. Residents have multiple ways to submit, track and manage their maintenance needs online. Service members and their families can virtually tour homes and use new tools to reduce contact during the move-in and move-out process. Many employees, like administrative staff and customer service representatives, seamlessly transitioned to working from home to continue services without interruption for our residents.
Military housing communities offer amenities like pools, playgrounds and recreational facilities for residents to enjoy, many of which were temporarily closed. To keep residents engaged with their neighbors, companies launched dynamic virtual programs and drive-through events that allowed residents to socialize and stay active within their community.
What operational safeguards and policy changes implemented during the health crisis do you think will continue to be in place in the post-pandemic world?
Campbell: To minimize contact with residents and service members interested in living in our communities, companies implemented solutions to conduct virtual move-in/move-out activities and many now offer virtual tours. The industry will continue to assess ways to enhance the safety and efficiency of all operations to maintain military readiness and keep residents healthy.
Meeting the needs of residents has become even more important during the pandemic as military families face hardships due to the health crisis. Until installations can resume life in a post-pandemic world, our members will continue to organize events like socially distanced food distribution drives and provide resources and opportunities for families to come together through virtual programming.
The average Basic Allowance for Housing rates rose 2.9 percent in 2021, but military personnel living in expensive metros might still face challenges in keeping up with rent payments. How can property managers support these residents?
Campbell: Choosing to live in privatized military housing is often the best option for military families living in expensive metro areas. Service members can choose to apply their BAH towards rent on-base or off-base. The Department of Defense determines the BAH amount each year, which is calculated by pay grade, dependency status and geographic duty location. Service members choosing to live “on-base” in a privatized military housing community will have their BAH applied to their rent, utilities and amenities, and avoid the potential for paying out of pocket to cover excess housing costs they may face living off-base. Privatized military housing communities offer service members high-quality housing and responsive property management services regardless of duty station location.
What are your expectations for the military housing sector going forward?
Campbell: Our members remain focused on fully implementing the Tenant Bill of Rights, which has already improved how military families are served and will continue to do so in the future. In addition, the business partnerships between our members and the service branches will continue to invest in the future of our military communities. Military Housing Association members are using innovative solutions to fund significant investments to improve communities and make them more sustainable. We are excited about the future of privatized military housing and the ongoing opportunity to serve those who serve.