How Workforce Housing Owners in Texas Can Help Tenants Amid COVID-19 Crisis

by Taylor Williams

Multifamily developers across the country know that these are unprecedented and uncertain times for nearly everyone due to COVID-19.

Houstonians making up our workforce, which many consider “the essential class,” include professionals like teachers, police officers, nurses and firefighters who invest in other peoples’ betterment every day. These are the people who are working day in and day out to provide us with various fundamental needs during this time of mandated quarantine.

Many of these individuals are tenants of workforce housing properties, and to the relief of developers, are most essential to the world right now. However, not all jobs can be kept, and with over 3 million people in the United States having lost their jobs in just a week’s time, necessary processes and procedures about how to work with residents who might be in a financial bind due to COVID-19 have become a requirement.

Rick Guttman, Dakota Enterprises

In early March, developers including our firm began to work with both the National Apartment Association and the Houston Apartment Association for recommended guidelines to effectively help our tenants who need it most. Additionally, several landlords came together to better understand what other complexes are doing on the ground to best serve our residents.

Landlords typically cannot forgive rent, but we can adjust late fees. While we are trying to do what is best to help our residents during this time, it is also important for developers to consistently communicate to residents the various ways in which they can receive aid.

Although various workforce housing developers have taken different approaches with their residents, at Dakota Enterprises’ properties, those who have been laid off or are struggling financially due to COVID-19 have the option to split rent into bi-monthly payments that do not incur late fees or penalties. We have also reduced standard late payment fees by 50 percent.

Additionally, Dakota has taken proactive steps to ensure our tenants and employees are safe and healthy. These implementations are practices that other workforce housing developments will continue to or should implement as well.

  • Rent payments: Rent payments should be only paid online or with a day drop. The doors of leasing offices should be locked, not to prevent tenants from entering, but to comply with social distancing.
  • Amenities: All pools, clubhouses, gyms and other public amenities and shared spaces should be closed to, again, eliminate the spread of germs.
  • Maintenance requests: Maintenance staff are considered essential employees and are still working. However, they should always wear masks, gloves and booties, ensure no one in the unit is sick before entering and work in different rooms from tenants at all times.

Along with internal efforts, developers are experimenting with new external strategies that align with COVID-19-related orders. Several developers have gone completely digital with their marketing efforts through virtual website tours and even Skype calls to see the insides of units.

At our properties, we are still giving potential residents unit tours in-person if requested. Showing units virtually will never supersede actually stepping foot in a unit, but we are taking necessary care to maintain appropriate distances between leasing staff and prospective tenants.

Dakota Enterprises was founded with the mission of providing a better quality of life at an affordable price point to Houston’s and Texas’ growing workforce community, and that is what we will continue to do.

To that end, it is important to remember that we are all in this together. These are unchartered waters for us all, and we should help each other navigate them, because tomorrow there is hope.

— By Rick Guttman, CEO of Dakota Enterprises, a Houston-based multifamily developer focused on rehabilitation and ground-up construction of market-rate workforce housing.

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