EDITOR’S NOTE: Storm Surges

By Teresa O’Dea Hein, Managing EditorThe fallout from natural and man-made storms continues to swirl around us. Between the hurricanes and the continuing upheavals in the financial world, these truly are unsettled times. While I’d planned on writing about a different topic, yesterday’s historic plunge on Wall Street compelled me–and perhaps you, too?–to explore safe harbors and lifelines.In the past few weeks, we saw Hurricane Ike tear through Galveston and neighboring coastal communities before paralyzing Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city. The storm’s powerful remnants then swept north through the center of the U.S., causing floods and wind damage. Up to nine inches of rain fell on Cook County, Ill., prompting a disaster declaration for the Chicago area, a place not usually affected by hurricane-related forces. Parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania also suffered floods and power outages.Riverstone Residential Group manages 68 apartment communities in Texas and Louisiana that were impacted by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Damage ranged from downed trees to entire roofs being blown off, according to Riverstone CEO Christy Freeland, in a conversation now available on MHN TV on our Web site (www.multi-housingnews.com). MHN Editor-in-Chief Diana Mosher interviewed Freeland in Denver during our recent conference, Multi-Housing World. (Timely interviews can also be seen with other industry leaders as well on MHN TV, which is the latest addition to our dynamic Web site.)Due to its large purchasing power, Riverstone Residential had identified vendors ahead of time, Freeland explained, and also had teams of its own onsite the next day after the storm to start assessing what needed to be done. Since electricity was out in many places, staffers set up command posts in recreational vehicles. The company has also encouraged employees to donate time to the recovery efforts through vacation or sick time.Dirk Wakeham, president of LeasingDesk, told me in a phone interview today that just under 300 renters insurance claims have already been filed in Ike’s aftermath. The company has reached out to area property managers and policyholders to help them access payments for additional living expenses and damage from wind-driven rain, etc. Wakeham points out that when disaster hits, it’s helpful when property managers and owners can at least help defuse the situation for covered residents. LeasingDesk has about 675 pre-approved properties in Texas zip codes affected by the storm and well over 20,000 currently actively insured residents there.And damage can caused from unlikely sources, too, Wakeham points out. At one 16-unit apartment cluster in a Houston-area community, a resident decided to grill all the meat he had in his refrigerator and freezer, since the power was out due to Hurricane Ike. However, flames from his patio grill reportedly set the building’s wood siding on fire. While details are still sketchy, it seems that the resulting heat caused the barbecue’s propane tank to explode, ultimately destroying 10 of the 16 apartments. While not even meteorologists can accurately predict oncoming storms, sooner or later the odds are strong that disasters happen. Being prepared is the prudent course of action. Offering renter’s insurance–and making it mandatory—seems like a good way to safeguard home for everyone. Please email me (thein@multi-housingnews.com) about what your company is doing to cope with these challenging times. What is working best for you? Is the shadow rental market affecting your communities? What advice would you share with other property management executives?