Edgewood and Vantage Provide Stability During Transition, Pandemic for Mixed-income Community
Challenge: New Management Needed at Mixed-Income Community
When the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, Md., received notice that its longtime property manager of Timberlawn Crescent – a mixed-income apartment community in North Bethesda – would be moving on, it faced a tenuous situation.
HOC needed to find a new management company for the property that could provide continuity for residents and seamlessly assume operations of the community’s unique mixed income structure.
“We had concerns about switching from a company with 10-year tenure at the property to a new manager, especially from a customer standpoint,” said Charnita Jackson, director of property management for HOC. “It was very challenging to think that we were going to have a disruption to our customers. I was worried about customer complaints because we were making the change.”
Timberlawn Crescent is comprised of 50% affordable housing, with different tiers of affordability based on the percentage of area median income, combined with 50% conventional homes creating a nuanced situation and unique challenge for a management company.
“We do have market renters, as well, so it’s a mixed-income community,” Jackson said. “We knew the new management company needed a strong affordable background, as well as an understanding of the customers in that community and how they relate.”
Solution: HOC Transitions Timberlawn to Vantage Management
Following an RFP process, HOC selected Vantage Management to take over at Timberlawn Crescent in March of 2020.
Jackson said Edgewood and Vantage emerged as the clear choice due to its familiarity with affordable housing and compliance, as well as HOC’s experience working with Edgewood to manage other assets in its portfolio. She knew that the complex makeup of Timberlawn Crescent wouldn’t be an issue for Edgewood and Vantage.
“Edgewood has a strong understanding of the regulatory environment that comes with affordable properties. They are well-versed in recertification, and Edgewood has a compliance department that supports the on-site staff,” Jackson said. “They oversee their teams to ensure that income calculations are correct, and as part of their quality control they do monthly and quarterly file reviews. They make sure that the on-site staff is supported and have the skills to income-qualify the incoming customers as well as the existing residents.”
Edgewood’s successful track record with REAC inspections helped to tip the scales in its favor, as well.
“Edgewood has other properties in our portfolio, and they’re well-versed in REAC inspections and what they need to do to get a property to pass,” Jackson said. “On our portfolio, Edgewood’s average score is a 96A, which is a relatively high REAC score. That was also a determining factor in our decision.”
Additionally, Edgewood and Vantage’s executive team had prior experience with the community.
“Edgewood and Vantage also had a senior vice president who was familiar with this asset,” Jackson said. “It used to be in her portfolio when she was with a previous company. So, there was a comfort factor there because she knew the asset from the very beginning.”
The community manager proposed by Edgewood and Vantage to oversee Timberlawn Crescent also brought with her extensive experience in affordable housing.
“The manager that transitioned was previously at a tax credit property, so her strength and experience is in a compliance environment,” Jackson said. “Even though Timberlawn is not a tax credit property, she had worked at a property that has even higher regulations, and that was attractive.”
Chris Houlding, regional property manager over Timberlawn Crescent, said Edgewood and Vantage was very deliberate in selecting a manager for the property.
“It was very important to make sure that the person we hired for the duel manager’s role was very diversified and qualified to handle the multiple tasks and services that this property required,” Houlding said. “We were able to identify that person early on, and she has handled the blend of that property with ease.”
Results: Vantage Delivers Stability, Technology and Resident Satisfaction
Timberlawn Crescent had historically posted 95% occupancy rates, and that rate never wavered when Vantage took over the property, even during the pandemic. Houlding said the community is currently 98% occupied, with less than 5% delinquency.
Occupancy and delinquency are the primary data points Vantage is using to gauge success in the current environment, Houlding said.
“Traditionally, you might measure NOI growth or revenue growth. But those things really aren’t relevant when you can’t make increases due to government regulations,” Houlding said. “Right now, we’re mostly looking at occupancy and delinquency. With COVID-19, delinquency is typically much higher.”
Upon assuming management of Timberlawn Crescent, Houlding said that Edgewood reviewed recertifications to ensure that everything was current and prioritized compliance at the community level.
“When you look at the best mixed-income properties in the industry, you’re looking at properties that have all phases of management in-house,” Houlding said. “We have compliance, accounting and management all in the same building. I don’t think a lot of management companies can say that. That allows us to turn around compliance files quickly and more accurately.”
Edgewood’s extensive affordable housing experience has contributed to resident retention during the health crisis, Jackson said.
“Their expertise in compliance and knowledge of the affordable market helped us to remain stable throughout the pandemic and the economic issues it presented,” Jackson said.
Edgewood and Vantage not only brought its proven track record of compliance success to the equation, but also introduced technology solutions that weren’t previously deployed at Timberlawn Crescent.
“Timberlawn was the only asset where we didn’t use revenue management, and Vantage put a system in place to bring the property up to speed,” Jackson said. “They also brought in a new CRM system, as well as lead management tools and a progressive reputation management platform. I am very pleased with Vantage’s use of technology.”
Jackson said Vantage’s implementation of progressive outreach strategies allowed it to connect with a diverse resident population and customer base.
“Not everybody has the soft skills to be able to deal with affordable customers versus market customers,” Jackson said. “It does take a different skill set. I think they’re well-versed in both, and I think that has helped them to continue to stabilize the property.”
Edgewood and Vantage’s proactive approach helped to maintain resident satisfaction levels, as well.
“The goal was to have Vantage be front facing, while we’re behind the scenes,” Jackson said. “We’re a little bit more visible to the customer than the average owner, because we’re a housing authority. So, while most renters only know their management company, our residents are very familiar with us and they’ll sometimes reach out to us directly. For the number of units that Edgewood and Vantage manages for us, it’s a very small percentage that we hear from in terms of customer complaints. The fact that the management team at Timberlawn addressed customer concerns early on helped, too. They immediately engaged with the customers and provided resources for customers who needed help.”
Overall, Jackson said Edgewood and Vantage demonstrated the same management qualities at Timberlawn Crescent that have created positive partnerships in the past.
“Edgewood and Vantage know what HOC expects of their properties,” Jackson said. “Their understanding of affordability and the customers that they serve made them the clear choice at Timberlawn Crescent.”