Special Feature: Multifamily Industry Has Many Reasons to Lend a Helping Hand to the Homeless  

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Special Feature: Multifamily Industry Has Many Reasons to Lend a Helping Hand to the Homeless

Contributed by Andy Helmer, CEO, Shelters to Shutters – a charitable organization supported by AOBA

There's no way around it: too many Americans are experiencing homelessness.

According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), nearly 550,000 people were homeless in this country on a single night in January 2016, and 22 percent of those were children. That 550,000 figure actually represents a 15 percent decrease from nine years earlier, but the number is still way too large. Over the course of a given year, according to estimates, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness

Without question, the elimination of homelessness is a complex task, and a true resolution will surely entail a multi-pronged effort involving federal, state and local governments, non-profits and the private sector. But with its collection of exceptionally bright, hardworking people and its abundant resources, the multifamily industry should not be shy about stepping up to the plate to help address this critical issue.

In fact, from moral considerations to more practical concerns, it has many reasons to do so.

 Right Thing to Do

First of all, helping to alleviate the pain and suffering of our homeless population is simply the right thing to do. It's important to take a step back to look at the all too thin line that separates so many Americans from homelessness.

One life-altering event – the loss of a job, a medical or health emergency, a divorce, domestic abuse or the death of a family's primary income earner – can send people to the streets or the local homeless shelter. According to the 2016 HUD report, 70 percent of the homeless population is situationally homeless – as opposed to chronically homeless – due to just such an event.

There is no shortage of ways for the apartment industry to touch the lives of those in need. Consider volunteering at or donating needed supplies to local shelters, or making contributions to organizations that provide housing and job training to the homeless to start lending that helping hand. These efforts can be undertaken at the corporate level as well as the community level to engage both onsite associates and residents.

Practical Considerations

Of course, there are many pragmatic reasons for apartment companies to work to mitigate homelessness. For one, reducing homelessness produces important financial benefits for towns and cities; every individual transitioned out of homelessness saves the local community an average of nearly $58,000., according to the HUD's Family Options Study. That's money that can be spent on other vital services and beneficial programs.

Apartment operators are also discovering that both employees and residents, particularly millennials and members of Generation Z, are looking for companies that practice corporate social responsibility. In fact, companies that don't engage in meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) stand to lose ground in today's marketplace.

Sixty-three percent of millennial women and 45 percent of millennial men say their decisions about job offers are impacted by the employer's CSR work, according to the Six-Month Research Update to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report. Moreover, 91 percent of millennials would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality, says the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study.

According to ManagInc's Multifamily CSR Benchmark Study, 80 percent of multifamily industry employees agree or strongly agree that CSR is important to residents, especially millennials.

Engaging in a serious, sustained effort to help the homeless is certainly a way for an apartment operator to practice the kind of CSR that would appeal to today's workforce and apartment renter.

A Source of Good Associates

As noted earlier, the vast majority of today's homeless population are situationally homeless and have marketable skills and strong work ethics. They are extremely eager to find employment and get back on their feet. All they need is someone to give them a hand up.

Multifamily operators can give them this hand up and find outstanding associates in the process. For example, the Fairfax, Va.-based nonprofit Shelters to Shutters (S2S) is currently working with 23 apartment management companies – including such industry heavyweights as AvalonBay Communities and Equity Residential – to place people experiencing homelessness in onsite, entry-level jobs and provide them with housing at the same communities at which they work.

Overall, these apartment companies have moved more than 100 people out of homelessness in markets throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, South and Texas. And they've gained hardworking, loyal associates in the process. The job retention rate for S2S participants is 92 percent while the average industry retention rate, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, is 69 percent.

 The multifamily industry is a vibrant industry, full of compassionate people who are eager to make a difference. Helping the homeless is one extremely powerful way to do just that.

If you would like to partner with Shelters to Shutters or want more information, please visit shelterstoshutters.org/get-involved.