Last modified on July 31st, 2023
By Marc Frenkiel
Hats off to property managers — it’s no easy task. And when affordable housing management is added to the mix, it becomes even more challenging. As 30-year affordable housing compliance veteran Karen Graham explains:
“Affordable housing managers are responsible for the same exact thing that conventional property managers are responsible for, but they have an entire added layer of responsibility, and that has to do with program compliance.”
But while challenges are plenty, looking at the glass as half full helps bring to light the opportunities these challenges present. And who better to get insight from than affordable housing operators themselves?
To get a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities in affordable housing management, we conducted multiple surveys of affordable housing property managers as well as a survey of affordable housing renters. Here’s what we found.
Operational efficiency is the top challenge for affordable housing property management companies, with 75% of the affordable housing operators surveyed ranking operational efficiency as their number one challenge.
Survey participants cited reducing costs, effectively keeping track of projects, vendors, and suppliers, freeing up teams from labor-intensive processes, and finding high-quality vendors and suppliers as the most challenging activities within operational efficiency.
The study found that employees of affordable housing management companies believe there is significant room to improve operational efficiency by reducing the amount of “busy work” and freeing up teams from labor-intensive processes. Karen Graham expands on this:
“Property management companies need to find a solution for “busy work,” which I look at as the tasks that team members may be doing that they really shouldn’t have to do or at the very least could be done more efficiently. Often, a property management company may not have good processes, policies, procedures, or even a system in place to properly support their team, so they’re left to their own devices to figure it out. This just perpetuates the ‘busy work cycle.’”
Against this backdrop, affordable housing property managers reported spending a staggering 39% of a typical 40-hour week on busywork, and 60% of respondents agreed they wish they had more time to focus on higher-value tasks.
HR, staffing, and recruitment
HR, staffing, and recruitment is another major challenge facing affordable housing property managers, with 47% reporting this among their top 3 challenges, and 47% citing demand for higher compensation as a top challenge within HR, staffing, and recruitment.
According to the data, only 52% of affordable housing property management team members are satisfied with their salary. But it’s not just a money problem. Survey participants cited attracting new team members, creating retention strategies to reduce turnover, training new hires quickly, getting teams to consistently execute, and improving company culture as the most challenging activities related to HR, staffing, and recruitment.
Risk, compliance, and regulations
“Risk, compliance, and regulations” was a top 5 challenge in our survey, with remaining compliant in general coming in as the most challenging activity within the larger category (58%). Compliance often comes with costs, and mitigating the increasing costs and burdens of regulations was ranked as the second most challenging activity related to risk, compliance, and regulatory challenges.
Many regulations are complicated, force changes to workflows, eat up time, frustrate team members, and constantly require updating training protocols, all of which feed into burnout and further perpetuate the challenge of HR, staffing, and recruitment.
While there is no “silver bullet” that solves all of the challenges that come with managing affordable housing, implementing the right property management software can make a significant difference. After all, many of the top challenges — reducing costs, freeing up teams from labor-intensive processes, attracting new team members, reducing turnover, training new hires quickly, managing your compliance obligations, and mitigating the increasing costs and burdens of regulations — all play into each other, and solving each of them can actually help solve all of them. The notion of leveraging technology as an efficiency multiplier in affordable housing property management is backed up by the data:
- 46% of affordable housing property management companies are looking to adopt new technologies to improve operational efficiency
- Survey participants believe an average of 16.5 hours per week could be streamlined or optimized through the use of technology (or about 41% of a 40-hour work week)
- 60% agree “I wish I had more time to focus on higher value tasks”
- 62% agree “I prefer to work for a company that adopts the latest technology”
- 89% agree “technology makes my job easier”
Taken in totality, these data points suggest that technology can provide a long-lasting solution to the top challenge of operational efficiency in affordable housing management, which can then lead to better compliance management, less busy work, and ultimately, a solution for HR, staffing, and recruitment challenges.
The data also shows that easy-to-use technology and workflows make training and onboarding easier, which can then make teams more efficient and better equipped to perform. In fact, the survey found that improving training is the number one strategy being pursued by affordable housing property management companies to streamline or automate operations as a whole.
While operators are generally optimistic about the future of the industry, challenges remain. But with challenges come opportunities to find solutions that, when implemented with a big-picture mindset, can help bring long-lasting, necessary, and positive change to a vital industry.
Our 2023 State of Affordable Housing report is filled with data aimed at helping affordable housing property managers understand the challenges facing the industry, and how best to solve them. You can check it out here.