Braving Turbulent Times – The Case for Technology
Allen Feliz, MRI Software
The affordable housing industry faced a variety of headwinds before the COVID-19 outbreak including widespread housing cost-burden, severe lack of supply and unmet capital needs in aging portfolios. The economic downturn introduced by the pandemic has brought greater pain and uncertainty to already vulnerable populations. However, during the early months of the outbreak, the industry dodged (or postponed) a financial catastrophe, as low-income families were afforded the resources to stay in their homes.
Until the month of July, households kept up with rent payments and housing portfolios remained financially stable in large part due to the federal coronavirus stimulus, extra unemployment insurance and federal and state eviction moratoriums. As the federal emergency benefits expired, and with no additional assistance offered, grim prospects have loomed for multifamily housing.
To brave these turbulent times operators/owners are turning to new technology. To achieve cost savings and operate more effectively during the new “normal,” they are leveraging a host of software products for property management, compliance monitoring and accounting:
- Leveraging the time of site managers - many working from home on a part-time basis
- Helping maintenance technicians safely focus on emergency repairs and routine disinfecting throughout common areas
- Supporting organizations that provide resident services who have permanently transitioned to a more decentralized approach
- Providing asset managers at the “owner” level with the technology, data and expertise to manage their portfolios
Technology is not only helping organizations (with scarce resources) weather the storm, but it’s also preparing them for the future. Web-based products like landlord and resident portals, which provide a centralized and secure place for communication, allow operators to electronically manage resident certification processes, waitlists, maintenance, tenant files, processes, documents and reports. One of the defining features of advanced property management platforms is the ability to automate household rent compliance monitoring including for assets with multiple layers of funding or different subsidy programs. Furthermore, operators can work well remotely, keep their communities healthy, and maintain effective remote communication with residents and prospects using products that help them with communications, processing of emergency maintenance and courtesy calls from residents, package tracking and electronic document signing.
Since owners today have to think more strategically about maintaining asset performance and managing their financial resources, technology that allows them to efficiently manage property and portfolio financials and perform asset management have grown in importance. State-of-the-art financial software integrates all property financial and accounting operations into property and compliance management systems. Asset management systems provide tools throughout all lifecycles of a property. Recognizing how critical (and challenging) budgeting is for the foreseeable future, some organizations are also using budgeting and forecasting tools to think creatively about how to maintain portfolio performance.
Purchasing new technology may seem like a luxury in the middle of a tumultuous period. However, advanced technology allows organizations to do more with their available resources. Imagine having additional funds redeployed to areas that meaningfully impact residents, such as supportive services or maintenance. Consider organizations that perform compliance monitoring manually -- with compliance management software, they can save significant staff time. Similarly, when housing organizations are busy managing a crisis, they don’t have much time to think strategically about financial operations let alone invest in asset management software. Without the ability to perform asset management analysis, organizations could be financially underperforming and not be aware they’re headed down a perilous path before it’s too late. Asset management software helps operators proactively respond to negative trends so that small problems don’t become larger, more expensive obstacles. Conversely, organizations that use these systems are routinely finding opportunities to limit expense growth or maximize revenue because they’re constantly exposed to month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter trends.
As the affordable housing market continues the fight against the impacts of COVID-19, owner/operators need a lot of help in order to provide stable housing. At MRI, we humbly recognize the industry requires extraordinary commitment from all major stakeholders. As a technology provider for over 2,200 housing organizations around the country, however, we value the role of technology in helping housing organizations grow stronger through this unrelenting crisis.
To get started on updating your technology, check out the recording and slides from the CHAM webinar “Asset Management Software – What You Need to Know Before You Buy.” TCAM Director Elaine Magil lays out a framework for how to assess and think about technology needs including document storage, data management, risk rating, and reporting. www.chamonline.org/webinars
Allen Feliz is the Industry Principal for MRI Software’s Affordable and Public Housing business unit. At MRI, Allen provides strategic direction for six legacy software groups, which provide compliance and property management technology to over 2,200 housing organizations nationwide, and the division’s new Affordable and Public Housing platforms.