WinnCompanies, the largest operator of affordable housing in the United States, aims to cut eviction rates in half across the company’s owned and managed national apartment portfolio during the next five years, starting with a 25% reduction in 2021.
The firm’s new Housing Stability Program will support 160,000 individuals living in 600 residential communities owned or managed by the company’s property management arm, WinnResidential, in 16 states and Washington, D.C. WinnResidential operates 61,000 apartments in Arizona, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia.
“The payment of rent is critical to the ongoing viability and quality of our housing stock, but we believe this plan can be the blueprint for a national policy model to reduce evictions and homelessness going forward. This comprehensive policy is intended to outlast the current crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and recession,” says WinnCompanies CEO Gilbert Winn. “It’s time to improve the way our industry thinks about these issues. Our goal is to make eviction truly the last resort in cases of financial hardship by making education, two-way communication, early intervention, and hands-on assistance our first lines of defense.”
The Boston-based firm tops the list National Affordable Housing Management Association’s list of top 100 affordable multifamily property management firms. It also ranked No. 6 on the National Multifamily Housing Council’s list of top apartment managers in 2020.
Developed by an internal task force created in January 2020, the Housing Stability Program focuses on four strategies designed to remove barriers to housing stability, especially among renters living in affordable and mixed-income apartment communities. The program:
· Dramatically strengthens resident education and outreach so that every household, regardless of their circumstances, understands the resources available to them through public and private programs at the local, state, and federal levels should they need it;
· Coordinates proactive early intervention for at-risk households as soon as they report they are experiencing financial difficulty;
· Pursues achievable, affordable, and sustainable payment agreements with struggling households, as well as providing hands-on help accessing emergency rental assistance; and
· Provides incentives and accountability to property management staff and legal counsel to set and reach strategic housing stabilization goals that lower eviction filing rates in each community the company serves.
Approximately 1,600 WinnResidential property management and resident services staff across the nation, as well as hundreds of private attorneys who handle eviction cases for the company in various states, are being trained to implement the new program in the weeks ahead. The company’s goal is to implement the initiative by the end of March in its own properties and those of participating clients.
WinnCompanies voluntarily halted tenant evictions in July 2020 for residents who could certify virus-related financial hardship under federal and state guidelines and who entered into payment plan agreements based on their rent obligations and household situations.
To date, WinnResidential has reached payment agreements with more than 2,500 residents since the start of the pandemic, creating plans to recoup over $3 million in back rent. In addition, it also has directly assisted more than 2,500 households in securing more than $6.1 million in rental assistance from public and private sources.
“Our property management teams have invested the extra effort to prevent thousands of evictions in the past six months, despite facing already difficult workloads and their own personal challenges during this pandemic,” says WinnResidential president Patrick Appleby. “Our stability strategy builds on our experiences this year, as well as decades of being a national leader in affordable housing. While federal and state eviction moratoriums provide a temporary stop gap, no one should doubt the challenges facing our residents, owners, and communities over the long term.”
The new program does not waive household responsibilities under lease agreements, including the obligation to pay rent, but it can provide a viable path forward and relief to the overwhelming stress for residents who demonstrate a good faith effort to meet their obligations, says the firm.
It will not apply to any household violating its lease through criminal behavior, violence, or other activities deemed to be a danger to the health and safety of the community or damaging to the property. Residents who do not communicate and participate in the program will be subject to eviction proceedings.
Evictions have been shown to contribute to homelessness and joblessness, numerous mental and physical health consequences, and educational setbacks for children. They also create a considerable financial burden for rental property managers and owners. Total eviction costs, incorporating lost rent, vacancy, legal fees, repairs, turnover, leasing, and other costs, can range between $2,500 and $8,000 per case, depending upon the property location and circumstances.
“From health to economic mobility, nonpayment evictions leave a permanent mark on individuals and families,” said Trevor Samios, vice president of Connected Communities, the resident services platform of WinnResidential. “Our goal is to flip the traditional approach on its head with a shift to housing stabilization as a comprehensive strategy to intervene to avoid eviction whenever possible. Helping people to stay sustainably in their homes has myriad benefits; it’s good for our residents, for communities, our industry, and the economy.”
The company’s Housing Stability Task Force included representatives from property management, development, legal, compliance, resident services, communications, and asset management teams. In addition, numerous external stakeholders, including legal services representatives, tenant advocates, housing agencies. and academic experts, were involved in evaluating aspects of the new program.