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Service on the Side.

At one time, independent housing developers and owners believed they were in the business of providing shelter--a.k.a. bricks and mortar. Adding a clubhouse or pot luck supper was icing on the cake.

Today, with the emergence of service-enriched, independent housing communities, amenities go beyond amusement and provide significant benefits for all involved. Service-enrichment is no longer a sideline. It recognizes and addresses residents' physical, social, educational, cultural, and spiritual needs by integrating resident-directed and resident-created activities, services, and programs into the bricks and mortar. This major paradigm shift is quietly changing the face of the independent housing industry across the country. Incorporating these services is proving cost-beneficial to properties, increasing resident retention, and building community spirit overall.

Start at a Simmer

Congress and HUD began this shift, from bricks and mortar to service-enriched housing communities, in 1990 with the authorization of funding for the Service Coordination Program (SCP). Created initially for senior housing and homeless families in transition, and originally implemented by non-profit, faith-based organizations, the SCP provided housing sponsors with a funding mechanism to hire trained, social-service personnel called Resident Service Coordinators (RSCs), to link frail elderly and disabled residents with home-and community-based service providers who could assist aging in place. Pioneer RSCs were paid out of the facility's operating budget. HUD introduced its RSC grants in 1993, which were typically for five-year terms. The majority of RSCs now are a line item in the budget and are funded through the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Contract in the form of increased subsidy payments through the term of the grant.

More recently, for-profit organizations are beginning to realize that paying attention to the human component of their business can be beneficial. It is estimated that a competent RSC is worth at least three times his or her salary in savings to the properties served, and sometimes much more. For example, let's assume the cost of one eviction is $1,500. It would only take very few tenant problems solved to pay RSC costs for a year.

There are a number of intangible benefits as well. Those problems and challenges affect the bottom line via high resident turnover rates and costs, damages, and vandalism to buildings and grounds, high security costs, resident conflicts, and so on.

RSC work has a direct and measurable affect on neighborhood quality of life, which has a direct effect on property values. According to a video put out by the East Lansing, Michigan Housing Commission, the installation of computer centers, which is a typical RSC activity in multifamily housing, cur vandalism by almost two-thirds and crime by almost one-half. A "sense of community," created by shared activities can double the value of the property in some urban areas.

Secondly, changes in the health care and long-term care industries, specifically, the increasing lack of affordable, assisted living in this country, is forcing many low-income seniors who are in need of personal-care assistance to be admitted prematurely and unnecessarily into nursing homes. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 20 to 30 percent of seniors residing in federally assisted housing are frail but only need assistance with their activities of daily living (ADLs). Assisted living facilities are currently cost-prohibitive to residents in federally assisted housing, and by 2003, only 29 percent of individuals 75 and older will be able to pay for assisted living.

Some senior communities in the East have stated that their occupancy would be only 50 percent without their RSCs. RSCs work to help delay the transition to nursing homes by coordinating services from the community.

Home-care service providers can be asked to cluster their services and waive their four-hour minimums to accommodate several residents in the same facility Having several clients at one location can provide tremendous economies of scale for service providers. For example, a home-care aide may be able to give 10 residents a bath three days a week. Sometimes linking a resident with a daily nutritious meal from Meals on Wheels or a similar service and a home health care aide who can provide personal care assistance a couple of hours a day and observe the resident placing medications in a weekly pill box is the difference between living at home and at a nursing home.

Stirring the Pot

Let's be honest. Property managers have little time to address the growing complexities of the needs of their residents and instead need to focus on the business of managing the property. While some property managers perform some service-coordination-related work, the property manager's responsibilities can be somewhat adversarial--collecting rent, enforcing leases, arbitrating resident disputes, and so forth. But the RSC can develop a closer level of rapport, maintain neutrality, and work with residents to solve problems.

RSCs can stay connected to residents through surveys, one-on-one interviews, joint activities, and personal and group meetings, so they can keep their programs in line with what residents want and can address problems when they are small and easy to fix. Surveys can give reluctant residents the opportunity to make suggestions anonymously. For example, include a survey that asks the services residents need and those in which they could help create. Try asking questions to determine what their skills are and how they could be best used to create programs. Ascertain what residents believe to be missing in the community and build upon what they can offer to remedy the situation.

When organizing these types of programs, it is important to focus on residents' and the community's strengths and abilities, not the problems and shortcomings. "Needs surveys" have their place for grant applications, but communities are healed using strengths. Sometimes, it is the most challenging residents who end up volunteering for leadership roles for specific activities and programs, as their energy is focused on something positive.

RSCs generally are not social workers in the usual sense, and rarely if ever provide services directly; they "coordinate" or even network the creation of services, often at no cost to the property. Depending on the needs of the property and the RSC's assessment, a number of services can be provided and even organized by the RSC and the residents. Examples of services created by RSCs can include:

* adult day care centers and assisted living services;

* health care clinics (on sire) and services;

* apprenticeships;

* cooperative child care;

* cooperatives to buy groceries;

* daily safety checks--by and for residents;

* economic development/job creation and educational seminars;

* mentoring programs and peer counseling;

* welfare-to-work training; and

* youth groups like Boy/Girl Scouts.

To help set up these programs an RSC should be able to connect with the larger community and bring people, organizations, and resources into the facility. Their abilities allow "one-stop shopping" for services and resources that otherwise are very difficult to locate or are nonexistent in the social services and resources in American cities.

Community leaders can approach outsiders as partners or investors in the community to promote their community agenda. Local nonprofit organizations and foundations are often willing to fund specific programs and activities. Establish linkages with your local schools, colleges, and universities, and inquire about becoming a site for student internships. Contact churches, local stores, and hospitals.

Now, the Bill

Backing a RSC rakes planning and a little ingenuity. Though funding is limited, some state agencies are beginning to allocate federal and state tax credits for affordable housing developments. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program is a competitive program, and in many states, amenities that serve resident needs, like RSC programs, count for extra points, which can make the difference in obtaining development funding.

For example, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency requires RSCs in all senior housing financed with tax-credit dollars. The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee revamped its QAP in 1999 from a lottery to a point system and is awarding extra points to developers who commit to specific service amenity programs.

Limited funding for RSCs in HUD-subsidized facilities is available through a lottery grant process. Facilities also can get approval to use residual receipts or include the expense as a line item in their operating budgets.

Non-HUD facilities need to be more creative and usually end up including the expense in their operating budgets. Tax-credit and market-rate facilities have the option of asking their residents to contribute, although the IRS strictly forbids requiring residents to pay for these or any other services.

Grant information can be obtained from The Foundation Center, 79 Fifth Ave., New York, New York 10003-3076, 800-424-9836, and The Grantsmanship Center, P.0. Box 17220, Los Angeles, CA 90017-0220, 800-421-9512 or (213) 482-9860. Websites on writing grant proposals are available at proposal.htm. "Grants Web" is yet another outstanding compilation of information about various sources of potential funding:

Research your city and state statutes as well. Some cities offer a property tax break for services that serve residents of low- and moderate-income housing.

Getting Good Reviews

Resident satisfaction surveys are usually a good barometer of the quality of life in a community. How do your residents see your developments? If they dont consider it a "home," you are more susceptible to damages, vandalism, and reduced occupancy rates, all of which negatively impact the propertys financial performance.

Adding a skilled and experienced RSC to your management team and beginning a comprehensive service-enrichment process will result in an increase in your residents satisfaction and a decrease in the negative activities in your developments and communities.

The authors wish to thank Michael Patterson, Resident Initiatives Specialist, HUD, Hartford, CT, for his assistance in collecting useful information and for his vision and commitment to healing the nation s affordable housing communities.

Pamela Mokier is president of Quality Living Solutions, Inc., a Costa Mesa, CA-based company working with developers, owners, and property management companies to develop and implement service coordination programs and to create service-enriched housing environments. Ms. Mokier can be reached at (714) 444-1090 and

Kenneth Brackenhoff is president ot Brackenhoff Management Group, Inc., located in Carson, CA, specializing in residential property management with an emphasis on affordable multifamily housing for families and seniors. Mr. Brackenhoff can be reached at
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Author:Mokler, Pamela M.; Brackenhoff, Kenneth W.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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