Multifamily Will Feel the Effects of Hurricane Harvey, Too

This is uncharted territory for many apartment operators, who will have to strike a balance in the weeks ahead.

AIM_Head-Shot-2Any spare positive energy is being sent Houston’s way this week as the city endures one of the worst land-bound hurricanes in recent memory.

While our thoughts are with Houston, it hits home to many of us in the multifamily industry. I can’t help but think my colleagues who either are located or oversee communities in the city, particularly the AIMCO team who I worked with for many years. I pray everyone is safe.

Right now, I am drawn to find ways to help and I am sure many of you are as well. If fact, I am collecting donations through my daughter’s volleyball team—Texas Advantage Volleyball—which also has a club in Houston—and will be driving the goods to Houston myself next week. If you are in the Dallas area and want to contribute, please let me know!

Whether it’s the donation of food and clothing, a monetary contribution or—for those in the area, the volunteering of time—our Houston brethren certainly will need it over the next few weeks. If you have an opportunity to help the Houston relief effort any way, please don’t hesitate to do so.

Looking at things from a long-term perspective, the effects of Hurricane Harvey will be felt in Houston for quite some time in our industry. Operations teams and maintenance teams alike will have their hands full with what promises to be a lengthy recovery process, particularly for communities that experienced significant flood damage.

Concerns in the forthcoming months will transcend efforts to attract new residents and to keep the landscaping as plush and pristine as can be. They’ll be about repairing communities and working back to a sense of normalcy.

This is uncharted territory for many apartment operators, who will have to strike a balance in the weeks ahead. Keeping in mind that most of your onsite team members probably live in the area and have had to deal with the disaster on a personal level, this is the time when it’s important to empower your teams and lift their spirits.

Here are some suggestions that might help ease the stresses they endured during the hurricane and after:

  • It’s Not Just About Work: Remember they experienced this devastation from both an occupational and personal perspective. Don’t only focus on the work side, ask them how their families and friends are. Offer a sounding board if they need to share what they experienced.
  • Communication is Vital: Make sure to focus on consistent communication throughout the recovery process. Already stressed, your teams are going to be trying to make things better for equally stressed residents. Keep them as in the know as possible regarding the timing of repairs and clean-up. This way, they can better communicate with residents and help elevate their stress as well.
  • Communications Part 2, System Providers and Third-Party Vendors: It’s safe to assume that on-site technology including computers and phones were damaged with the rising water. So, the sooner you can ensure your business systems and third-party vendors are operational, the better. Find out when UPS, FedEx and the USPS will be able to make deliveries again. Consider reaching out to your vendors for assistance, maybe even in providing temporary services at sister properties not directly impacted by the hurricane. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to get your teams up and running faster.
  • Be Thankful: Demonstrating that you appreciate their efforts, and thanking them more often than usual, are small gestures that can have a significant impact during recovery. We can’t simply imagine the hard work and time they will need to dedicate to getting the community and residents back to normal. So, thank them. In words, in emails, in social media posts—even consider bringing in a masseuse or sending the team for spa treatments in a few months to help further relieve some of their stresses. And thank your residents. Thank them for understanding that your teams are working hard. Thank them for stepping in and helping too. Thank them for their trust in you and your community.

Houston undoubtedly will recover. As a fellow Texan for the last 31 years, I know it will. But for those in the position of leadership, this is the time to empower your teams and make the recovery process as seamless as possible.

Jim Kjolhede is the president and founder of Satteron Enterprises LLC, which was formed in 2005. He has worked at Beacon Hill Investments, American Development Corporation, Balcor Property Management (up to 20,000 units), Insignia Residential (up to 55,000 units), AIMCO, where he was divisional vice president responsible for a combined portfolio of REIT, fee, and affordable properties totaling 85,000 units. Most recently Kjolhede worked at Archon Residential Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, where he was chief operating officer, overseeing more than 55,000 units. Kjolhede has been a member of the NMHC Board of Directors as well as the Austin Apartment Association Board of Directors.