APRIL SUCCESS: Our Operational Performance in the Midst of a Pandemic
Despite the economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, April was a very good month for Avenue Living Communities (Avenue Living) when it comes to key performance indicators (KPIs), and May is trending in the same direction.
Mark Nixdorf, Senior Vice President of Residential Operations for Avenue Living, said the company collected over 97 per cent of all April rent, right on track with usual rent collections, within one to two per cent. Not only has Avenue Living been able to achieve continuity among the backdrop of uncertainty, the company has sought after new opportunities to improve its safety measures, service offerings as well as operational processes.
“We have not seen a decline in our collections at all,” he said. “We attribute this to a number of factors. Firstly, the government reacted quickly to every possible resident demographic needing to pay rent – whether it was a student, an unemployed individual through EI (Employment Insurance), or somebody that experienced a reduction in hours, through the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) relief fund.”
“The second is that we’ve put together a Prairie Relief Team. Our main mission for putting this team together was to be proactive in communicating with our residents. We take calls and respond to emails daily, offering flexible payment plans when needed.”
Nixdorf said Avenue Living set up the Prairie Relief Team to help residents navigate through any financial hardships they may be having and to alleviate their worries about paying rent. The team helps guide people through the numerous government relief programs that are available to them.
Avenue Living also implemented various flexible payment programs for its residents. “People can pay rent weekly, semi-monthly or monthly if they prefer,” said Nixdorf. The company has rounded out its digital payment options, adding e-transfers as a payment method. Residents can also pay on a virtual terminal with their credit cards, with Prairie Relief Team members taking the information over the phone.
“We’ve been more flexible in the way we accept payments,” said Nixdorf, adding that Avenue Living is ahead of the curve in the residential rental industry by offering unique and innovative initiatives to its residents.
“There are a lot of initiatives that we are doing, and so far, all of these ideas seem to have worked. We didn’t have a playbook for the COVID-19 crisis, although we wish we did. We feel we’ve taken a proactive and flexible approach to collecting rent.” In addition, Avenue Living’s in-house call center is maintaining a service level of 98.5 per cent, despite adapting to a remote, work-from-home environment.
Nixdorf said leasing activity remains strong for Avenue Living, which did not see a dip in April from March, even in the face of the challenges to the economy brought on by COVID-19.
“In fact, our new lease numbers increased by around 20 per cent since March, which is great news. We attribute this increase to a couple of things; there is an absolute priority in the marketplace to secure shelter during these difficult times; the flight to affordability as a result of individuals looking to decrease their expenses is seen in our increased leasing volume as our apartments provide high value at attainable rates,” said Nixdorf.
“We have also made a number of units available on our website at a special rate (approximately 20 per cent discount), to support front-line individuals that are working so hard for all of us during this difficult time. These units have performed extremely well. Our team is pleased with our new leasing activity,” added Nixdorf.
Nixdorf stated that renewals of leases are also at an all-time high for Avenue Living. The company continues to see higher-than-average renewal rates, trending towards 85% for May.
Throughout the portfolio, occupancy levels have also remained stable throughout the economic downturn.
“We’ve invested a lot in our buildings over the last two years, whether that’s capital work on the interiors or exteriors of our buildings,” said Nixdorf. “I believe the general public is recognizing that we offer excellent value for money. People see Avenue Living as a sound place to call home.”