Why Access to Financial Services Is a Key Amenity for Affordable Housing Residents

Amenities are important when it comes to renter appeal. However, what residents want from their apartment complexes is based on different issues, like socioeconomic status.

Indeed, a resort-style pool, yoga rooms and fitness centers are nice. But residents at properties owned by Comunidad Partners, an operator of workforce housing communities across Sun Belt markets, want more than these features in their community.

To understand our residents — our customer base — we asked them questions, tried programs and obtained feedback. From this, we determined that our residents’ top three concerns were health, community safety and managing finances. However, expense management didn’t involve debt restructuring or financial literacy. Instead, access to the financial system was the issue.

Thanks to this feedback, we’ve developed and are implementing programs at two of our properties in Texas — Villas at Alameda in Fort Worth and the Villas at Shadow Oaks in Austin — to help residents access financial services like high-interest savings accounts. These intangible amenities help build and enrich communities while strengthening resident retention and other operational factors that benefit investors.

Sensing Residents’ Priorities

In determining the right amenities to support residents, it’s essential to understand your community.

For instance, many residents at Alameda are diverse individuals who work hourly jobs. Residents at Villas at Shadow Oaks are median income workers or students who are looking to save for their futures.

It’s also vital to dispel assumptions about residents who live in affordable housing. These assumptions might include being unemployed, only having access to low-paying jobs, being heavily in debt or struggling to make ends meet.

Here’s the reality:

•   Less than 5 percent of our residents are unemployed, while 65 percent are on the “financial edge.” This means that an unexpected expense like a medical emergency or car bill could put them in serious financial trouble.

•  Affordable housing residents are financially literate. They are outstanding at budgeting; they know exactly, to the dollar, what’s coming in and what’s going out.

•  Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t overburdened with debt. The background of most of these tenants is to use the money on hand to buy rather than running up balances on credit cards.

Another reality is that affordable housing residents lack access to financial resources. Specifically at our properties, 10 percent are financially stable enough to buy a house or move to a larger apartment. However, this group can’t access capital markets (for savings) or mortgage brokers (to finance the purchase of a home).

Additionally, many of our residents are self-employed entrepreneurs. They need additional capital to expand their businesses but don’t have access to the necessary networks.

Finally, cultural backgrounds and previous experiences have generated mistrust of traditional financial institutions. In outlining issues of racial equality and housing finance, Fannie Mae reported a considerable gap between black/Latino and white homeownership, as well as barriers to affordable, stable rental housing among minority groups. Much of this is due to a lack of inclusion and increasing home prices.

Meanwhile, a study from the Brookings Institute found that 46 percent of Black Americans and 32 percent of Hispanic Americans are unbanked or underbanked, respectively, compared to 14 percent of white Americans.

Source: REBusiness Online: https://rebusinessonline.com/why-financial-access-is-a-key-amenity-in-affordable-housing/