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3 Keys to Marketing for Affordable Housing Communities

Affordable Housing Communities

Although the prospective renter demographics may differ, the tactics and tools can be surprisingly similar for affordable and conventional housing communities. See how they match up and what is needed to attract the right demographics.

Marketing for affordable housing and conventional housing communities can be surprisingly similar in terms of the outlets and processes that they use. But slight differences in how each property type is marketed can be found in the specific tools used and the amount of legwork required. 

We spoke to Mary Jo Goelzer, vice president of marketing and communications at Jamboree, and Carrie Briggs, senior director of marketing at FPI Management, about their marketing processes for the affordable housing communities they develop and manage. Here are some of the insights they shared:

1. Mobile is the primary platform. Having a web presence allows potential residents to find various apartment communities. But to meet the needs of prospective residents of affordable housing communities, who may not have access to a desktop computer, it’s critical that apartment communities have mobile-enabled websites.  

“We are converting every website to responsive design,” Briggs shared. “And it holds true to any demographic in any type of building. So having a huge mobile presence is very important and is part of our marketing strategy.”

Mobile also extends to real-time promotions and geofencing capabilities and to social media, which can help with brand management. Advertising will also be geared more toward personalization, Briggs observed, and that will help property-management companies and property owners better target certain populations.

“We’re going to see more advertising where it’s specific to what you’re looking for,” Briggs stated, noting keyword phrases for affordable housing generally include “bonds” and “section 8,” based on the type of populations communities want to attract. 

Vendors can help identify IP addresses and zip codes to develop more targeted advertising campaigns, Briggs added, “so if we’re taking on a building, and we’re saying we need to increase our occupancy, we can partner with one of our vendors that’ll say, ‘Well, I’m going to look at the IP addresses for renters in a 5-mile radius of your subject property, and we’re going to now target them with display ads.’” 

 2. Marketing is also about education. Jamboree works with many community partners to make sure target audiences hear about new communities. But community education is also necessary to make sure affordable housing communities are accepted into local neighborhoods.

“Many communities don’t want to see affordable housing in their community. Their attitude is, ‘Well, if you want to live here in Boardwalk Plaza, you have to earn the right to live here, and we don’t want the riffraff or the poor people coming in,’” Goelzer explained. “And I always tell them we’re dealing with people who are making 30 to, say, 60 percent of the median area income. This is the guy that served you coffee this morning at Starbucks. This is the woman who is going to do your nails this afternoon. This is the teacher’s aide who’s helping your kid after school or something. These people are already here. They’re not suddenly invited into the community.” 

Some of the hostility is based on preconceived notions of what the property will look like and worry that it won’t fit into the neighborhood aesthetic.

“There’s a lot of community outreach. We meet with a lot of community groups before we even start building, to see what are their concerns, what are their immediate needs, before this community is built,” Goelzer added, referring to Jamboree’s “press to flesh” campaigns, which also include casual meet-and-greets and open houses. “It’s not digital. It’s not print. It’s just being out there amongst people and doing that kind of speaking campaign that goes on as well. And I don’t know that if you’re in a market-rate development that [you do] that much footwork and groundwork out there before you actually started leasing up a community.” 

 3. Marketers also develop community relationships. Because certain communities may be bound by the individuals who can live there, be it veterans or seniors, community relationships can be leveraged to help with outreach to populations in need. (Certain communities may have outreach requirements, as well as applicant-tracking dictates, which software can help with, Briggs noted.)

Community relationships can also be important in creating programs that encourage residents to remain at apartment communities. Goelzer noted that many of Jamboree’s properties are designed with larger common areas to allow other partners, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, to come in and provide programming that may not otherwise be available to residents and others at their facilities because of lack of space.

Jamboree’s primary clients are cities and counties, so relationship-building across the board is critical not only for buy-in and resident outreach but also for repeat business. 

Overall, property managers and owners of affordable housing communities are still striving to create a community experience that benefits residents. And that should be reflected in marketing and advertising efforts, as well as in customer service and reputation management.