What Multifamily Can Learn From Privatized Military Housing

Carolyn Tregarthen of Lendlease shares four tips that can benefit all multifamily properties.

Carolyn Tregarthen

In 1996, Congress established the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) under the National Defense Authorization Act to help the military improve the quality of housing, and therefore overall quality of life, for its service members and their families. The goal was to attract outside financing and knowledgeable real estate companies who could partner with the Department of Defense (DoD) to efficiently build, operate and manage higher-quality homes on its military installations throughout the country.

Since private developers began working with the military over two decades ago, over 180,000 units that were in serious need of improvement or replacement are now providing a much improved living experience for our honorable service members and their families.

Multifamily property owners, developers and managers can all learn from the successes of the MHPI— particularly the importance of providing a well-rounded experience for residents. Here’s how.

Create a Community

A community is more than just a collection of houses or apartments. It’s about being able to see a friendly face on every street, asking for and receiving assistance from a property manager to help put together your child’s new swing set while your spouse is deployed, and developing friendships with your neighbors. While it is the job of the DoD to prepare our service members for the unexpected, it’s ours to make sure their families have a safe and secure place to call home.

You never know the situation of individuals living in your community. It could be something less significant; perhaps it’s their first time living away from home, and they aren’t sure how to identify the right light bulb to buy. Or it could be a larger challenge, if they have a disability that inhibits them from changing the bulb themselves. The physical home is very important, but what’s just as critical is understanding our residents’ needs and creating spaces where no resident feels isolated or unsupported in the place they should feel the most comfortable.

Build for the Future

When a partnership is established with the DoD, it’s a long-term, 50-year agreement. These ground-leases allow developers to borrow large amounts of capital to complete all the projects necessary in partnership with our DoD partners. When creating our plans, we must look far ahead into the future. The needs of residents are constantly changing, and the pandemic showed us that more than ever. Outdoor activation areas such as playgrounds, walking trails, and pools have and will always be a necessary component. But when it comes to the homes themselves, what might be a nice feature now may not be appreciated in 30 years.

As more and more homes are being built and renovated, we have to think about what is going to matter most to residents in 2030 and beyond. Sustainability; from zero net carbon to improved air quality and energy-efficient features, residents are going to expect more from both owners and developers. Looking at better and more efficient ways to build and maintain a sustainable home will not only make for a better investment now but will provide a better (and healthier) quality of life for residents for years to come.

Partner With Like-Minded Organizations, Residents

Tierra Vista Communities at Peterson Air Force Base. Image courtesy of Lendlease

The MHPI program automatically creates a partnership between the DoD and developer, but it doesn’t end there. From the first day the agreement is signed, many groups come together to work hand-in-hand in the design, development, and management of that community. Being transparent with one another allows for a cooperative relationship where each party, and ultimately the residents, significantly benefit.

But building a thoughtful relationship with residents is just as critical as those with property development partners. Having an inside ear allows owners and operators to truly understand the needs within the community. Directly knowing what our residents want, for example, wanting to have easier access to amenities, enables our teams to better prepare for future development or upgrades. This can easily be accomplished by utilizing platforms like social media or internal resident communication apps to see and hear feedback in real time.

Never Get Too Comfortable

It’s easy to do the bare minimum. What sets developers apart are the extra efforts made (both big and small) to create exceptional living experiences for residents. For military service members, no day is ever the same. They often live a life of uncertainty, not knowing when they may have to leave their families or for how long. As privatized military housing owners, we must work hard to provide a level of certainty and stability—a happy, healthy and safe home for our current and future residents.

To do so, you must reinvest. Not just money, but also your time and experience. Whether it’s multifamily or privatized military housing, we all have the same goal. By learning from one another, we can discover new and innovative ways to retain residents and better our communities.

Carolyn Tregarthen, appointed managing director, Communities in September 2020, directs Lendlease’s Communities business including development projects; property and asset management; environment, health & safety; as well as managing new business opportunities. She is responsible to ensure efficient operations and customer focus across the more than 40,000 homes and 12,000 hotel rooms that make up the military housing and lodging portfolios.

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