Managing Property in a Challenged Neighborhood

No one needs to tell you that managing property in a "challenged neighborhood" can be a trying experience. Police calls can be frequent, and existing residents can be skeptical that things will not change.

You must follow strict guidelines, and have a clean, pleasant and comfortable place for people to call home. Prior property management experience is helpful before jumping into this type of risky investment. Many investors purchase rental property without understanding the amount of work involved or the laws that relate to rental property management. Add to that inexperience the dynamics of a neighborhood with a high density of low-income households and high crime, to uniformed owners and you will have a situation that can create problems for the entire community.

However, in various challenged neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area, owner and managers can work together to improve the community. We can join forces with local law enforcement officials, security companies, elected officials and neighborhood residents to change the way our neighborhoods are perceived and the way business is done.

The Major Issues
There are many issues facing owners and managers in troubled neighborhoods. Some problems relate to poor screening by neighboring owners. It is frustrating when other owners are not willing to set high standards. In many situations a lack of management presence and the owner's unwillingness to deal with disturbances can lead to the deterioration of the area.

Another issue is the lack of responsible residents. The skills and resources of prospective residents seem to have decreased. Many residents lack the knowledge about caring for an apartment and the ability to follow rules. Dealing with applicants who have trouble reading the application and understanding the provisions is very time consuming. Because of these challenges, more "in-depth" management is required to enforce lease provisions, to collect rent, and to keep behavior in line.

While some neighborhoods may be termed "troubled," not everyone managing property in such areas agrees with that characterization. Some may choose not to identify these management issues as problems. You could see them as opportunities and challenges to meet the residents' needs, to bridge the low-income with dominant society. If we do continue label communities, we do a disservice. We need to look at the quality of people. People need to be given the opportunity to succeed; labeling provides them an excuse to quit.

These issues are complex. Lack of parental control over juveniles. Socioeconomic difficulties faced by families, or the density of apartment buildings can be factors in a neighborhood's decline. Many times a parent of a problem juvenile may be addicted to drugs, or they deal drugs as a fast moneymaker.

Some problems are the result of residents not having a vested interest in their neighborhood. Lack of ties to the community itself is a big part of the problem. Neighborhood problems can also be blamed on poor environmental design. The degree of attractiveness of any location says a lot about its owners and the type of people who frequent the place. Poor lighting and unkept buildings and lawns can exacerbate crime problems.

The Media's Impact
According to owners and managers interviewed, the media also shares the blame for the poor image of certain neighborhoods. Some see news coverage as a hindrance to efforts to improve their neighborhoods. But unfortunately it makes headline news when problems are present in apartment communities. Many citizens do not realize they (the media) are actually only speaking of a very small portion of the community.

Many managers understand that the media are trying to analyze the issues, but they say what people remember is the map of "troubled" areas of the metro area. A better approach would be to focus on the afford ability of the apartments in these areas and the efforts being made to improve the neighborhood. The future of any area is its ability to attract responsible residents. The media needs to realize the negativism they create and emphasize the positive instead.

Reaching Good Residents
Marketing apartments in a troubled neighborhood presents its own problems. Many times, prospective residents will have conceived notions about the neighborhood. Some just hang up when told where the property is. It helps to try to focus on benefits rather than just location. Stress that you have a diverse resident base, and you also have residents who have been there for a number of years. Invite them to talk with your residents, drive through the neighborhood, down the street, and to come see your property. Some my be turned off by the neighborhood immediately. Others may make an appointment and them drive by without stopping. However, the majority may give you the benefit of the doubt and stop in to see what you have to offer.

Take a long-range view of marketing your apartments. Many think once the residents are attracted, the job is done. Instead, owners and managers must demonstrate respect for residents and consistently uphold the rules and regulations. It is necessary for owners to be present and maintain their property. Visibility shows you care.

Positive Steps
Police involvement has a positive effect on neighborhoods. It is important that police make a commitment to the area and know te residents. City and county officials, as well as community agencies must be involved. For instance, recreational and family assistance programs provided by local centers are very important to residents. These organizations can also help residents start Neighborhood Watch groups.

Positive experiences can be gained by working with other owners. For example, if you have had trouble with trespassers on your property, you can issue warning ad trespassing tickets. If the warning ticket is issued to someone at one property, it serves as notice at all the properties. If the trespasser is then seen on another property in the area, the violator will be fined.

If your neighborhoods are "challenged," set your sights high, and aim for that goal in everything you do. Be willing to take an empty apartment for two months to get a quality resident. Many good residents are out there, without high paying jobs, looking for a great apartment.

If you have a quality property, be proud of it and let everyone know it. Let prospective residents know you are proud of it, too. They will feel your pride.

Written by Cynthia J. Simek -Tomlinson.
Reprinted with permission from
Madison Area Apartment Association's newsletter - "The Key"
Madison, Wisconsin

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