At the peak of COVID-19, owners and managers of multifamily housing took steps for residents to socially distance without feeling isolated. These five lessons will help residents feel less anxious if another variant or health challenge emerges.

Lesson 1: Communicate protocols. Managers learned the importance of sharing details about what they were doing to ensure healthfulness. Atlanta-based developer Wood Partners relayed messages daily, then weekly, then monthly as information fatigue set in, says former Managing Director Steve Hallsey. Florida-based The Klotz Group learned that information on resident portals appealed most, since signing on was voluntary versus residents being bombarded with emails, says CEO Jeff Klotz. Clifton, N.J.–based Blue Onyx Cos., which develops and manages mostly workforce housing, hopes its digital services platform will help curtail isolation and create a greater sense of community, says CEO Levi Kelman.

Lesson 2: Tailor classes. When shared amenity facilities closed, many buildings offered Zoom sessions focused on a mix of interests. Not all remote efforts were successful. Myrtle Beach, S.C., based developer Sands Company found residents at warm-weather properties favored in-person outdoor classes. Wood Partners’ fitness classes in California didn’t do well since many preferred going to a beach, but residents were keen on mixology classes. In Portland, Ore., there was a big turnout for art classes. The Klotz Group saw demand for cooking classes. Blue Onyx found families enjoyed beginner fitness classes.

Lesson 3: Expand work-from-home options. In response to residents’ needs for dedicated remote workspace, managers converted open lounges and other amenity spaces to cubicles. Sands Cos. is now offering bigger in-unit floor plans with work areas. The Klotz Group is also ramping up square footage, adding study spaces and specifying indoor and outdoor co-work stations.

Lesson 4: Make cleaning visible. At the height of the pandemic, posting signage or stocking PPE supplies wasn’t enough. “Residents wanted to see staff cleaning,” he says. Property management firm RKW Residential had staffers record cleaning steps taken daily. Wood Partners learned the value of hiring third-party experts, including an industrial hygienist, and that different size buildings dictated different cleaning protocols.

Lesson 5: Program outdoor living. The trend now is to program rooftops, courtyards and lawns for interaction, says Holly Casper, Sands’ director of asset management. Blue Onyx constructed an urban beach with 500,000 tons of Jersey Shore sand and partners with an operator that brings in food trucks and orchestrates events.


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