A Hands-On Approach

Steve Moore, co-owner of Villa Serena Communities, takes on low-income apartments in Houston.

Steve Moore endeavors to be an apartment owner who does much more than collect rents from his properties every month – and he wants other owners and investors to do the same.

The Houston resident is a hands-on kind of guy who can not only fix an air conditioner or confront a problem resident, but has a determined vision for how to create change in some of Houston’s crime ridden neighborhoods. His company controller calls him the “MacGuyver of property management.” True to that label, Moore has some ideas that are daring and different.

Villa Serena Communities, the company that he co-owns with two partners, manages more than 5,000 multifamily units serving more than 12,000 Houston residents. One of those properties is Biscayne Apartments in Greenspoint, where Moore has lived on site for the last three years.

MHN talked to Moore about his unique approach to providing a safe environment for residents.

MHN: Why are you living in one of your communities, which is in a neighborhood known for high crime?

Moore: Three years ago, we bought 2,600 units in one of the pockets of high crime in Houston. These units are right in the middle of the worst of it. I’m a widower, and I can do things that I couldn’t do if I had a wife. So I moved into Biscayne Apartments, which is the worst community we purchased. I said to my partners, if we’re willing to rent it to people, I should be willing to live in it.

MHN: What has the experience been like?

Moore: While I’ve lived there, I’ve had my car broken into, I’ve had my apartment broken into, and I’ve had a guy put a gun to my head and say give me your money. This is for real. But we were victorious, because now it is low crime.

MHN: What have you done to fight crime on site?

Moore: We put a guard shack up and began 24-7 security. Biscayne was the worst one of all, and we kept that guard shack up 24-7 for about six months. During that time, about half of the existing residents moved out, and most of those needed to go. The place was so bad that the landscape crew was robbed in broad daylight at 2 p.m. in front of the leasing office. You wouldn’t see kids outside of their apartments. Now, when the kids get off the bus from school, they’re outside talking and playing around because it is low crime.

MHN: How does a typical day for you differ than it might for some of your fellow property owners?

Moore: I have talked to other apartment investors, and they talk about the fancy dinners they go to and the wine they drink. My reaction: That’s your excitement for the week? Well, let me tell you what I did this week. I went over to one community where we had a murder, I went over to another property where the gate was bent, and found the paint that had scraped where it had been hit so we could match it to the perpetrator’s car. I talked to a property manager about a resident with a boom box blasting. And I talked to a kid who needs to get a job, and told him how to get a suit from the thrift store, get a resume together, and every single day once he gets hired, show up early, leave late and ask his boss how he did that day.

MHN: Villa Serena asks residents to sign a contract when they lease that includes a dress code and strict restrictions on guests in the community. Why do you think that works?

Moore: Rules, structure, and a strong community policy are wanted by the residents. What a good owner of a low income property does is provide the structure that the residents need. We also offer community programming, including after-school tutoring in partnership with a local high school, YMCA programs, after school programs and community fellowship and outreach. We’d like to expand the faith and values-focused offerings that our residents for our residents.

MHN: How are you changing the way you decide who rents at your properties?

Moore: We use “RCR” by the Houston Apartment Association to aid in the screening process. Because it is real time, up to the minute, we can find out if an applicant has a lease somewhere else and are trying to skip out on that lease. That won’t show up on your standard credit check until maybe a month later. It’s critical to get real time data about the local market and cover the majority of prospects who walk in the door.

MHN: What message do you have for other low-income-property owners?

Moore: What’s in it for you if you go and spend $200 on a fancy dinner? You won’t even remember it a month from now. I have so many memories of things I’ve done at this property. People whose lives I have impacted – people who come up, talk to me and say they’re so happy to rent here. My life is full of excitement. You can’t get that excitement from a pizza with organically produced cheese. If you own a low-income property, you have the opportunity to have as much excitement and adventure as you want. The bonus is that if you get satisfaction from helping others, then a low income property provides a great big opportunity to feel wonderful.