By Jenn Danko
For many prospective tenants, a great apartment with all the amenities isn’t enough to reel them in. Property managers should also consider developing and maintaining a strong apartment community to attract renters.
Deborah Filice understands how the "buddy system" can play a pivotal role in developing a sense of community within an apartment complex. Filice, president of the Institute of Housing Management (IHM) in Toronto, says that—especially in senior residential communities—such a system can create a strong desirability among the type of tenants property managers want to attract.
"Residents are often willing to assist the management by creating a buddy system where they check on their neighbors," she explains. "In one of our senior buildings, a doorknob hanger is placed on the exterior of the tenant’s door each evening, indicating they are home and OK. In the event the hanger is not moved by a set time the next morning, this triggers the buddy system and a process that ensures the resident is well."
Such tactics are only one way property managers can create a sense of togetherness within their buildings. These measures not only ensure residents’ satisfaction but also keep units occupied—and, ideally, result in long wait lists filled with prospective tenants.
So what programs can property managers implement to keep buildings desirable—and what resources are available to those eager to launch community-building programs of their own?
"When you must strategically market a vacancy, the property manager must determine that special niche that will attract and retain new residents," Filice says.
David McIlveen, director of community development at one of Canada’s largest property management companies, Boardwalk REIT, has arranged volunteer opportunities within buildings to foster a sense of togetherness. Most recently, one of Boardwalk’s Calgary properties formed an alliance with a corporate partner and the city’s parks foundation to construct a playground located across the street from the complex. "We commissioned residents and put together a team that worked to get the playground up and running," McIlveen says. "Of the 45 people who were on site at one time, about 10 of them were our residents."
Filice says voluntary activities can also include litter pick-up, grocery assistance, potluck dinners, property garage sales and group movie nights. Activities that involve residents are key factors in establishing a sense of community identity to make a property desirable.
"Residents are the best promoters of your building identity. And by supporting a reward or referral program, the existing tenants will share the success of your community, and thereby bring in like-minded friends, family members and new tenants," she says. "All of these efforts build community, and this, in turn, promotes loyalty, ownership and improves building marketability."
Developing a sense of community is not always exclusive to residential buildings. Nina Gazzola, director of operations for MaRS Discovery District at the MaRS Centre in Toronto and member of the Building Owners Managers Association (BOMA), directs a highly desirable commercial property set amid the lively buzz of Toronto’s Discovery District at College Street and University Avenue. The 700,000-square-foot, mixed-use complex is home to some of the most sought-after space for small business startups—and much of it has to do with the sense of community that management teams at MaRS have fostered among tenants. "A lot of these small business owners who are building their companies from the ground up are spending more time here than they do at home," Gazzola says. "So in a lot of ways, it’s like a second home to them."
As part of her team’s strategy, they try to bring tenants together through informal settings. One of the most popular events—especially among young professionals and startups—has been the monthly pub night. "We set up a pub in the complex and invite all of our tenants to come down," Gazzola says. Food and beverages are catered on site and sold at reduced prices. There’s even a makeshift bar. "It really creates a feeling of community in the building," she says.
What are key characteristics of a solid, community-building program? Deborah Filice, president of the Institute of Housing Management (IHM) in Toronto, says it’s the property manager’s job to demonstrate and maintain the character or culture of the building.
She provides the following strategies for winning over future residents: