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Social programs aid property turnaround.

The drop in occupancy due to overbuilding in the Southwest reached legendary proportions in the mid-and late-1980s. In Dallas, apartment occupancy declined from 98 percent in 1983 to 83 percent in 1987.

In one 18-month period in 1984-1985, the Dallas-fort Worth area was completing apartments at the rate of 65,000 units per year. This rate is equivalent to one entire 260-unit apartment project opening every business day of the year, and accounted for 15 percent of the apartment units being built in the entire United States.

The impact of overbuilding is severe on the market as a whole but can be particularly devastating to the economically disadvantaged areas of a city. In Dallas, the lower-income Oak Cliff section experienced a decline from 97 percent occupancy in 1984 to 67 percent in 1989 before rebounding moderately to 83 percent today. Equally devastating is the loss of the cream of the tenancy which is skimmed off by the appeal of lower rents in upscale markets.

The challenge of how to respond to these Circumstances was brought to us by a client who foreclosed on a mammoth 826-unit apartment property in Oak Cliff in January of 1988. The property, named Briar Gate apartments, stood at 58 percent occupancy and had $50,000 in delinquent rent. We faced the usual litany of problems in such situations before we took immediate corrective action (Figure 1).

One of the big factors in this success story was the development of a variety of programs to deal with the 700 children that lived on the property at the time (the current estimate is 1,500). Four hundred of these children were \of school age and in need of recreation, discipline, and educational help.

The majority of the students came from single-parent families, and 70 percent of them scored below average on the National Teams Test administered yearly by the Dallas Independent School District. In addition, many of these children had learning disabilities or emotional problems and had been victims of neglect and/or child abuse.

These statistics, coupled with the size of Briar Gate itself, the frequent occurrence of vandalism, and the area crime rate, made it essential for our management program to include the control and monitoring of the child population in the overall marketing and management philosophy for the property.

In a classic "sell the negative" approach, we used innovative programs to appeal to new tenants as well as existing residents concerned about their children. The result was 60 to 90 new leases a month and reduced turnover.

The following is an outline of the programs that have been initiated and are being continually evaluated for effectiveness in this area.

Summer day camp

This program was launched in 1988 beginning in June and ending in the latter part of August. It included free athletic lessons, free lunches supplied by the city of Dallas, arts and crafts, organized team sports, story hours provided by the mobile Dallas library, and supervised group games.

The program enjoyed wide participation with over 90 children enrolled. Vandalism during the period was reported to be the lowest in the memory of long-term staff members. In addition, the program was promoted in all advertising and used in the leasing presentation.

The Learning Lab

This program is structured not only to help the children improve their learning skills, but also to teach them skills to help them succeed in everyday life. it includes basic instruction in reading, mathematics, and writing using teaching tools such as multiplication bingo, cassette tape studies, and flash cards. Other areas of concentration include regular classes in drug/alcohol prevention, personal hygiene, creative writing, and black history studies.

Forty children are currently attending regularly and about 100 attend occasionally. Attendance at Briar Gate's tutorial program is required by Daniel Webster Elementary School in cases where the student is failing and is highly recommended by all schools in the property's district.

Because of the success and growth of the program, volunteer teachers are being recruited to teach specialized classes such as computers, Spanish, exercise, and nutrition. Management is now soliciting a major corporation for a donation of a computer system.

Both the Summer Day Camp and the Learning Lab are run by qualified teachers who have entered into agreements with management to trade services for free rent. The majority of supplies used are donated by the city of Dallas or other outside organizations.

Clubs and scouts

Due to the distance of the existing Dallas Girls Club from the property, the Girls Club began operating the Briar Gate Girls Club in a two-bedroom apartment on the property. The Dallas Jack and Jill Foundation donated funds to cover start-up costs for the club, and a major corporation supplied the necessary furniture. The Dallas Public Library contributed books.

The club serves all girls ages 6 to 18. It is open Monday through Friday from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm during the school year and from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm during the summer months. Activities include arts and crafts, music appreciation, drug/alcohol prevention, career options, and planned sport activities.

Separate Girls Club liability insurance was placed on the operation with the owner named as the additional insured.

Recreational sports teams

Tennis, basketball, soccer, football, and baseball teams are run by the city with the tennis and football teams being coached by the Summer Day Camp teachers. The tennis team won a first place trophy in a city-wide tournament, which is proudly displayed in the leasing office.

Parent support group

This organization is sponsored by the Dallas Independent School District and assists parents in learning basic parenting skills. The assistant principal at Daniel Webster Elementary is the leader of the group, which meets monthly at the tutorial center.

Because of the limited time single parents have for non-essential activities, participation was low for the first several meetings. However, as with several of the other programs that stared slowly, efforts to promote the meetings improved parent participation.

Crime Watch

A crime watch organization has been formed with meetings held monthly, after hours, in the leasing office. Crime Watch signs have been placed in c spicuous areas throughout the property. Participation increases monthly, and this program will continue to be promoted through use of flyers and the quarterly newsletter. Resident participation has been critical in identifying and eliminating several drug houses.

Conclusion

For a small annual outlay (Figure 2), Briar Gate's social programs have been a tremendous success. The property has been recognized by major Dallas newspapers as well as by local minority publications. Even more importantly, the existence of our social programs has had a positive effect on leasing and retention (Figure 3).
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Title Annotation:Briar Gate Apartments in Dallas
Author:Fischer, Lee
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:1113
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