Creating Comunidad: Transforming Community Through Social Impact
In an industry primarily focused on increasing rents as the status quo of how to drive value, Comunidad Partners believes sustainable value creation comes from investing in residents, as they are the real asset. Enabling residents to realize their fullest potential creates the greatest opportunity for value generation and creates a greater purpose for the people involved in that value proposition.
Social impact drives financial alpha through lower turnover rates that keep occupancy higher for longer periods of time, reduces delinquency, and lowers turnover costs, marketing and personnel costs due to the consequential effects of resident displacement.
Comunidad’s social impact framework focuses on three core pillars: equity/economic advancement, health & wellness and education. All three of these pillars are vital to the business value proposition because they help address critical needs in underserved and underinvested communities but also help foster renter resiliency, family self-sufficiency and elevate residents to their higher and best potential so that they can thrive. And if residents thrive, then by extension property performance thrives.
“There is a systemic problem in that most business plans in this industry are unfortunately extractive and zero-sum, whereas our narrative and journey support a symbiotic relationship where thinking more holistically and investing in residents as our most important asset is additive — not only to improving their life outcomes but creating an enduring business model where all stakeholders can benefit over the long-term,” says Principal and Managing Partner Antonio Marquez.
People are our Purpose
Comunidad’s team culture integrates the skill sets, passions and cultural backgrounds of its team members, and everyone has a personal story about how the work they do gives them purpose on a personal level.
“There is a real housing crisis, and the situation is only further deteriorating,” says Managing Director Santiago Rivera Torres. “Unfortunately, the most impacted are going to be the most vulnerable, and it’s up to us to make a change.
“Our best chance to stop the vicious cycle of poverty, malnutrition, poor health and inferior education is by providing peace of mind to families and vulnerable populations through quality, secure, functional and affordable housing.”
Rivera Torres’s “aha” moment came while visiting a property in Dallas to help launch an after-school kids’ meals and homework workshop program.
“I distinctly remember seeing a little girl with a group of friends as they received their meals, watching her take a piece of fruit, and kiss it with a big smile on her face before biting into it. I knew what we were trying to do, but it wasn’t until that moment that I understood the true importance and what was truly at stake.”
Director of Social Impact Pamela Lopez, who has been with Comunidad Partners since its inception, has many such stories. As an educator, she also embraces the children’s cultural and educational programming, understanding that when children become interested, they draw in their parents, neighbors and friends, too.
“Once I was helping at an after-school craft day when the children arrived,” Lopez says. “Seeing that not everyone who got off the bus came to our club room, Miguelito ran off to round up his friends. After he returned, I noticed him helping another child who didn’t speak English with the craft.
“I speak Spanish, but getting help from a trusted neighbor was just what was needed to make that child feel comfortable. I realized then and there that our program was much more than serving Miguelito and his friends with our social impact; it was about giving him the opportunity to BE the social impact and engage with neighbors to build real community, which was amazing to witness.”
That’s exactly what Comunidad Partners’ model intended. Marquez, with Rachel Deitemeyer, Principal and Finance Director, founded Comunidad Partners to build community, create opportunities and a better life for the residents they serve.
“For us, ESG drives our entire model,” Marquez says. “We’re not doing it because it’s trendy or investor required. Social impact is part of our cultural fabric and operational DNA, so there is a deep commitment to seeing it blossom in our communities.”
Social impact partners
To better serve that commitment, principals of Comunidad Partners founded Veritas Impact Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to foster social services and resident programs that build a sense of place and community where residents feel connected and supported.
Veritas is the social impact arm for Comunidad Partners’ workforce housing properties, says Jennifer Searles, its CEO. Veritas partners with stakeholders including multifamily owner-operators such as Comunidad, mission-aligned funding sources, and nonprofit and for-profit service providers to elevate communities.
“Research continues to show that the quality of your housing — the how you live — plus the where you live are predeterminants to your life expectancy, your economic mobility, much of your educational status and whether or not you will stay in poverty,” Searles says. “We partner with owner-operators that care, and together we’re creating sustainable forward momentum for workforce housing populations.”
Searles was recently in Houston to literally knock on doors amid a global pandemic to let residents know about Veritas’ signature partnership with Teladoc®, the largest national virtual healthcare provider. Every Texas resident of the pilot program receives telehealth free, as long as they’re a resident of a Comunidad Partners property.
“We are the first of its kind partnership where the Teladoc membership is shared directly with residents, and not through an employer,” Searles says. “We’re focused in Texas because it’s an epicenter for the uninsured and underinsured. You can be working full time and not receive insurance benefits.
“So with masks on, my teammate Amanda and I go resident to resident and we knock on the door,” Searles says. “Myrna cracks her door open, and we explain that we’re here to help. She then opens her door a bit more, and we could see that her apartment was dark. She was shaking, and she immediately began to cry.
She said, ‘I’m not doing well. In the last several weeks I’ve been to the ER, and I’ve been to the urgent care, and I’ve been diagnosed with a severe mental health issue.’” She was struggling and had quit her job and was living off her savings.
“And so, despite COVID, I gathered Myrna in my arms, and my teammate Amanda took the phone from her shaking hand and helped her access healthcare services for free. We explained that in addition to medical help, the service also offers 24/7 virtual mental health support and that she could call them anytime with no charge to her.
“And then this woman, who hasn’t left her house, who hasn’t let anyone in her house, looked at me and said, ‘won’t you come in, can I offer you something to drink? How can I help you?’ And that’s what we’re doing, that’s how we’re helping. We’re opening doors of opportunity for the residents we serve.”