5 ways to make your properties more inclusive
Many companies have made bold commitments to increase diversity in the past several years.
But diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t just for big corporations. Any multifamily property owner can take steps to create a more inclusive culture in their business. Not only is it the right thing to do, it can bring tangible benefits for investors, from access to a broader pool of tenants to a stronger team of employees and partners.
Here are five strategies property managers recommend — and how they could pay off for your business.
1. Proactively review policies and procedures
Consider how your buildings’ policies and rules affect tenants, ensuring all can feel like they’re living in a safe, welcoming environment and rooting out measures that could create bias.
When Denver-based property management firm HRG Management Services took a look at its policies during the pandemic, it made a change to its response to receiving a bad check from a tenant, says Marci French, vice president of operations at HRG Management Services and chair of the National Apartment Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.
In some states, a person can face criminal charges if they write a check without sufficient funds in their account to pay it and don’t pay promptly once notified the check was refused, French says.
That can impose a significant penalty on financially vulnerable tenants. HRG Management Services decided it will still send those checks to collections but no longer file charges.
2. Open the lines of communication with tenants — and listen to their concerns
When a resident at one of HRG Management Services’ properties said she was offended by the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn’t a company holiday, the business decided to add it, along with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
While adding holidays is a relatively simple example, changes like these can help residents feel heard.
French recommends property owners make residents feel comfortable bringing up concerns.
“Even if you don’t have a formal task force or diversity, equity and inclusion committee, just having an open dialogue where people feel safe to speak how they feel can be enough,” she says.
Listening to residents can help beyond just responding to problems, says Jessica Lee-Wen, chief marketing officer at Casoro Group, a minority-owned multifamily investment firm based in Austin, Texas.
When Casoro Group plans capital improvements like renovating common areas or offers programming at its properties, it surveys residents about their preferences. The approach ensures the company invests in things that matter to tenants, Lee-Wen says.
3. Add services that reduce barriers for tenants
Leonard Ang, CEO of iPropertyManagement, says he makes sure the rental office and maintenance departments at multifamily properties he owns in California, Colorado and Washington offer assistance in multiple languages, including Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin and Arabic. This involves having some multilingual employees, offering written materials in multiple languages and keeping a translation and interpretation service on retainer. That service costs $200 per month, plus $40 per hour for each phone call, according to Ang.
“At this price, it’s definitely been a worthwhile investment,” Ang says. “Many of our non-English speaking tenants have been with us for years. They’re reliable and great at referring their friends to us.”
4. Make marketing materials welcoming for all
This isn’t optional: According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Housing Act, which covers most housing, prohibits “advertisements that indicate a preference, limitation or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status or national origin.”
Along with abiding by federal legislation, taking an inclusive approach can also benefit property owners by broadening their pool of prospective tenants.
An easy first step is reviewing images of people included in marketing materials and property websites, French says. Is there diversity in age, skin color, gender and ability represented?
“About 10 years ago, a lot of us in the industry started removing people altogether,” French says. “You went into model apartments, and in the frames, people were always blonde and blue-eyed. It sends a message, ‘That’s who we want living here.’”
5. Be inclusive in hiring and vendor relationships
Employees with diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives that can help businesses generate new ideas and tackle problems in new ways, French says.
One strategy she recommends to reduce bias in hiring is making sure the person reviewing candidates’ resumes only sees information related to their experience, not details like their name, photo or high school graduation year.
“If you remove things that could feed someone’s bias … that can open a door, or maybe not close a door you would close because of your own discomfort,” she says.
Property owners can also consider loosening or eliminating degree requirements for candidates with quality experience and make a point to include existing employees in the candidate pool for open positions.
“We often talk about hiring diverse employees outside the company, but why not start inside and show the people who work for us now that we’re invested in them?” French says.
It’s also a good idea to consider whether you’re working with diverse partners and suppliers, especially those creating jobs in your local community.
Asking about their demographics may be a challenge at first, Lee-Wen says.
“It takes practice, but if you are committed to increasing diversity within the industry, we need to get comfortable having those conversations,” she says. “And if your company has a lot of diversity in its ranks, be loud and proud about that."
By Lauren Zumbach from Story by J.P. Morgan