In times of national emergency—from 9/11 to the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 to Superstorm Sandy—many multifamily leaders redirect their focus to investing in and giving back to the communities they serve. At no time has dedication to communities been more apparent than with COVID-19, as the industry scrambles to help residents through rent deferrals, building food security, and donating and raising money for frontline workers and hospitals, among other efforts.
“A number of our landlord clients are working with tenants and deferring all or part of their rent payments for April and May and, in a few cases, agreed to consider further deferrals if the stay- at-home order is not lifted next month,” said Raymond Sanseverino, chair, Real Estate Practice at law firm Loeb & Loeb. “The deferred rent is to be re-paid over a portion of the remaining term of the lease. In some cases, a portion of the rent is being paid for April and May, but the majority of the rent for those months is being forgiven entirely.”
As we head into an uncertain summer and fall, Jamestown CEO Michael Phillips says he perceived the greatest need across communities and his tenant base to be food security. “Our local restaurants and small farmers have been heavily impacted by this crisis, and the larger food community will continue to feel the effects for quite some time,” Phillips said.
“Early on, we recognized the need to bring immediate and long-lasting support to the larger food industry, and help neighborhoods tackle food insecurity issues. This type of assistance would be critical for workers who are often not represented in traditional social assistance programs, and populations in low-income housing areas where food security was already a challenge.”
Through its charitable foundation, Jamestown became an early supporter of the James Beard Foundation’s Relief Fund and partnered with local nonprofit organizations to launch outreach programs like Food Fight GA, which provides weekly grocery boxes to struggling food service workers and their families, while simultaneously helping local farmers.
A trio of Brooklyn brokers including Sean Kelly of Ariel Property Advisors, Dan Marks of TerraCRG and DJ Johnson of B6 Real Estate Investors, concerned about hunger, founded Brooklyn Brokers United to support Brooklyn-based not-for-profit organizations serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group has exceeded its $20,000 goal and has raised approximately $23,000 to date. The organization helps to fund The Campaign Against Hunger; Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, an economic opportunity program; and CHIPS, a soup kitchen and shelter.
The Campaign Against Hunger is based in Bed-Stuy and, while normally providing aid to approximately 250 families, now serves approximately 1,100 families because of unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow focuses on parents and is providing diapers for young children during the crisis. CHIPS empowers communities through employment services and, since the pandemic, has been helping a large number of immigrants who fall outside the recent congressional aid package.
These efforts are just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a samples of some of the initiatives underway:
The Real Estate Lenders Association is donating $5,000 to support NYC Health and Hospitals and encouraging its membership to donate as well. The funds help essential healthcare on the front lines providing meals, pre-packaged groceries to take home, hotel rooms, laundry service and scrubs.
The Resident Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides rental assistance grants to help responsible residents pay rent during a temporary emergency, has launched the Resident Relief Initiative, a multifamily industry fundraising effort to combat the national housing crisis that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March alone, the non-profit reported rental assistance requests more than triple their annual rate. Together with its multifamily industry partners and donors, including MYND Property Management, Veritas Impact Partners, GSH Group, Luxer One, and others, the Resident Relief Initiative will raise urgently needed funds to help keep renters in their homes when the limits of government intervention are reached.
Multifamily lender Arbor Realty Trust has launched an initiative called the Arbor Rental Assistance Program, which is intended to supplement existing government rent relief programs and leverage private capital to fill critical gaps for people who are impacted by a loss of income due to the virus. The program is available to the Arbor’s existing borrowers and property owners. Arbor is contributing $1 million and participating borrowers will match Arbor’s advances to tenants in need to help fill the rent gap during the hard-hit months of May and June. The program will be offered to residents at properties it finances across the country on a first-come, first-served basis.
LYND Property Management has created a program called “Lynding a Hand” whereby it will donate five dollars from every rent payment it receives to local hospitals in each of the metropolitan areas in which it operates. With 20,000 units under management in 17 cities, the company estimates it can raise tens of thousands of dollars for the cause.
Alabama-based student housing community The Union at Auburn, a luxury student housing community serving students at Auburn University, recently launched its Worry-Free Renting program for students looking to lease during the upcoming fall 2020 semester. The program guarantees when students sign a lease for Fall 2020, they will not pay any rent until in-person classes begin or they decide to move in before campus opens. The Union at Auburn is also promising if students get accepted into the dorms before April 30, 2020, the community will allow them to cancel their lease.
UV Residential has donated $10,000 to launch a resident relief fund to meet the needs of its most vulnerable residents impacted by COVID-19 through its Urban Village Program. The fund also is now growing from other staff and investor contributions, the company reports. The money has been used to provide four weeks of meals through Every Plate as well as a Clean Essentials Kit through Blueland Cleaning to meet the top two needs of residents as described through a resident survey.