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Building Communities of Quality:
Changing Perceptions
About Affordable Housing

Industry Insights

Affordable housing operators that maintain their communities at high quality standards and programs like NAHMA’s Communities of Quality are changing negative homeowner perceptions and opening the way for more development, so critical in California’s tight housing market.

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Affordable housing operators that maintain their communities at high quality standards and programs like NAHMA’s Communities of Quality are changing negative homeowner perceptions and opening the way for more development, so critical in California’s tight housing market.

Where I live in the Bay Area, the affordable housing crisis has come to a head with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board recently labeling it an emergency. Driven by the state’s failure to build enough housing to support all the new jobs created — California built just 209 units of housing for every 1000 jobs added between 2011 and 2016, the crisis has greatly amplified homelessness in cities like San Francisco and intensified the debate over how to address affordable housing statewide. The crisis has led to the passage of Ballot Measure C in San Francisco, which spurred a public and vehement argument between Twitter and Salesforce executives over the new tax for large corporations to fund homelessness programs. Analysts estimate these tax revenues will provide new permanent housing for 5,000 people.

homelessness

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California built just 209 units of housing for every 1000 jobs added between 2011 and 2016, greatly amplifying homelessness in cities like San Francisco and intensifying the debate over how to address affordable housing statewide.

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Tensions are high and Measure C will undoubtedly stall due to legal challenges by opponents, but a solution must be put into place quickly to provide affordable, quality housing to low income residents across California. Otherwise a mass migration of low income workers from the state will inevitably follow; they are increasingly choosing to leave the state already according to Next 10, a business-oriented San Francisco public policy group. All Californians should be concerned, since a healthy economy depends on participation from workers at every wage level. Affordable housing helps preserve the diversity of age groups and economic classes that make cities successful. This is why building new affordable units should be a top priority from the staunchest Republican to the most liberal Democrat.

Unfortunately widely-held, negative homeowner perceptions about affordable housing and movements like NIMBY threaten to significantly delay or defeat the construction of new affordable housing units and undeniably increase the cost of affordable housing development. Affordable housing operators that maintain their communities at high quality standards and provide programs to help people out of poverty and into education and work programs are starting to impact homeowner perceptions about affordable housing in the communities in which they operate. The work they’re undertaking to effect this shift is critical to all of us. Programs that position and promote affordable housing in positive ways, and new software tools that help operators remotely monitor quality assurance at their properties 247, ensure a sustainable and equitable economy for all of us. Below, I give an overview of some of those programs, why they’re important, and how you can participate and take advantage of what they have to offer.

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Programs that position and promote affordable housing in positive ways, and new software tools that help operators remotely monitor quality assurance at their properties 24/7, ensure a sustainable and equitable economy for all of us.

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Affordable housing


Communities of Quality


Administered by the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA), a nonprofit group which advocates on behalf of affordable housing and its managers and owners, the Communities of Quality (COQ) program is the gold standard of affordable housing certifications. To achieve certification under the COQ National Recognition Program, properties must demonstrate they meet the group’s standards for “physical maintenance, financial management, programs and services, employee credentials and other criteria.” In addition to this core program, there is also an annual COQ Awards program and a COQ Corporate Partner Designation, open to management companies that achieve COQ National Recognition for more than 50 percent of their portfolio.

Participating in the COQ program is an important investment in the mission of affordable housing. NAHMA is one of the primary groups advocating for affordable housing, and your partnership in the program furthers the cause for everyone. The more residents, prospective residents, surrounding homeowners and the greater community see the COQ brand and understand what the program entails, the more community advocates are created for affordable housing and new affordable development across the country.

In addition, applying to the COQ programs can be a great incentive to revitalize your properties and motivate onsite personnel. It provides staff with a greater purpose, a far more powerful motivator than compensation. Participation in programs like COQ is therefore particularly important in affordable housing, where budgets are highly constrained and spending on everything — including employees — tightly capped.

Motivated Employees

And of course there’s the brand reputation benefit. Certification under the COQ National Recognition program entitles organizations to display the COQ digital badge on their property website. Many affordable housing residents will recognize the badge as a sign of quality, while those unfamiliar with it can click and learn more about the COQ designation. In addition to attracting new residents, participating in the program can also become the basis for a public relations campaign. Awards can be the subject of a press release, which may get picked up by the local news. Ultimately, COQ recognition combats the stigma against affordable housing in your area and helps you garner support from the local community.

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Other programs


The more awards, certifications and other recognitions your business or community receive, the better. Here’s just a small sample of the numerous programs and associations that affordable housing managers can get involved with:

  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition: Founded in 1974, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has for decades advocated on behalf of affordable housing. In addition to research, policy guidance and grassroots organizing, NLIHC also holds an annual awards program for outstanding individuals in the affordable housing sector.
  • Urban Land Institute: The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit, member-supported research and education organization centered around responsible land use, also conducts the Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Awards. Five privately-owned properties were awarded this year from around the country, each focused on households that earn 120 percent of the area median income or less.
  • Affordable Housing Finance: A critical insider publication, AHF covers industry news as well as administers awards each year in the categories of “Hall of Fame,” honoring long-time industry leaders who have made a lasting impact in affordable housing, and “Young Talent,” highlighting up-and-coming stars.
  • The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) is a leading housing and community development advocate for the provision of adequate and affordable housing, and administers both agency and individual awards for those making outstanding contributions to the housing and community development field.

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Earning COQ certifications and awards


Last year, NAHMA honored five properties in the COQ Awards. In their write-up, judges highlighted various innovative initiatives: Powdermill Village in Westfield, Massachusetts, was singled out for partnerships with local family and after-school programs that serve to address gang violence and criminality in the surrounding area; Clayton Mews, a senior facility located in Clayton, New Jersey, was honored for both in-unit and common area features and amenities. One common thread across all the winners, however, was the quality of the physical community.

In the application for the COQ National Recognition program, physical condition is critical. A minimum of 80 of the 225 points required for certification come from the “inspections category.” Obtaining a score of at least 80 on your REAC inspection and “satisfactory” or very few findings (i.e., less than 10% of units, files, etc.) on your management review from HUD is required to earn enough points in the inspections category. (Self-certification is available for properties not subject to REAC or HUD inspections.) Performing pre-inspections and required maintenance prior to these government audits is an important step to ensure your property earns enough points to qualify for COQ National Recognition.

Inspection

Beyond these annual pre-REAC and pre-HUD inspections, onsite personnel should inspect your property on a quarterly basis for preventative maintenance items, as well as inspect the property weekly for key safety conditions, like exterior lighting and playground checks. To save time and improve accuracy, you should consider adopting a mobile inspection platform. The traditional method — inspections using pen-and-paper forms — is not only time-consuming, but it’s also error-prone and has a tendency to result in missing or half-completed forms. Inspections performed on a mobile platform, on the other hand, can help remove subjectivity by incorporating photos of the building component in question, are immediately accessible remotely, and backed up to the cloud. You can also make specific items “required” with certain platforms, meaning no inspection can be marked complete without the user providing a rating or photo of the item. Additionally, by choosing a platform with a great user experience, you can make inspections intuitive and easy, and ensure a smooth deployment and quick training process.

The quality of your inspections can also play into your score for the financial management section of the application. The application requires you to have well-funded “replacement reserves” — in other words, money enough to replace the various building components in units and public areas. Regular and thorough inspections are again key because they help you catch issues early, before they become serious problems in need of expensive repairs. Using mobile inspections can be even more effective, because aggregated data collected across your portfolio is immediately available and ready to be analyzed. With an advanced reporting solution for inspection data like Happy Insights, managers can easily identify trends in the data, such as the quality of certain brands of appliances and fixtures, informing them about their future purchasing decisions, and how often they should inspect their current fittings. Advanced reporting also enables you to quickly answer key safety questions, like when the last annual apartment inspection for fire safety has been performed, the number of smoke and carbon detectors across your portfolio, and more.

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Get involved now


Whether you’re the manager of an affordable housing community or a market-rate property, robust inspections are at the heart of any “community of quality.” Although budgets are constrained in the affordable housing sector, there are numerous resources available to help you market, manage and maintain your property. Join groups, utilize modern inspection software, and most importantly, make your mark on the the affordable housing industry by developing and maintaining outstanding properties that are safe and vibrant places to live.

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Make a Difference in Housing. Maintain Communities of Quality.

Whether you’re the manager of an affordable housing community or a market-rate property, double-down on your inspection workflows to ensure every property in your portfolio embodies a community of quality.

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About the author

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Jennifer Tyson
VP of Marketing

Jennifer Tyson is a seasoned marketing professional with more than 15 years experience at leading Silicon Valley companies and startups. During a decade at Apple, Jennifer launched three generations of Apple Internet services including the blockbuster iCloud 1.0 launch in 2011. iCloud became the fastest growing Internet service of its time acquiring 45 million users within the first 30 days and over 300 million in less than two years. In December 2015, Jennifer joined HappyCo leading marketing. Jennifer holds an MBA from Dominican University of California and a BA from the University of California Santa Cruz.

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