How (and Why) to Build Community within Your Community
The apartment industry houses one-third of the American population, so you might think that would make our onsite staff experts on building community. After all, they’re on the front lines of American families, and in many ways know their residents very well. So, how can property managers and leasing professionals take resident functions a step further than holiday parties to build a strong sense of community and empower residents to take an active role among their neighbors?
First, as an industry, we should boost awareness of the importance of encouraging social connections among residents. Sure, these are helpful for the purpose of stabilizing rents and achieving target ROI, but they also make a positive impact on people’s lives. If the goal of community is made a priority, than your occupancy goals will take care of themselves!
It is important for higher level corporate team members to be supportive of creating community and encourage onsite staff members to brainstorm ideas on ways to make this happen. Research shows that public recognition for those onsite staff members who are doing this type of work will likely encourage them to do more and drive other staff to do the same.
However, the rubber meets the road with onsite staff. Many managers are already holding resident functions, so what more can be done? Here are a few milestones to plan for in creating a platform for residents to get involved:
- Find the Core Group: Plan several flyers and emails (Use simple language) to distribute to residents explaining the importance of living in a healthy community and the need for everyone to be involved. Reference research, offer links and resources for them to check out on their own. (Be sure your maintenance staff is in the know. Often times they have the closest contact with residents – ask for referrals among neighbors who would like to be involved in your community engagement initiative.)
- Schedule an interest meeting – first ask everyone who is interested to reply with days of the week which doesn’t work for their schedule. This will allow you to identify a day which works for everyone.
- Facilitate the interest meeting with a goal to identify a group of people to meet regularly to discuss future initiatives and goals for the community. Give some guidelines for the group to stay within. Encourage them to start small, work toward small goals then begin to think bigger. You may want to give them three initiatives to choose from: resident pool party, community garden, breakfast on the go event, etc.
- Ask the newly formed group to create an action plan which includes an overview of the initiative, dates/times, communication methods, request for resources (printing flyers, meeting space, money for refreshments, etc.) Be sure their action plan includes all information the property manager needs to understand the initiative and give the green light. Perhaps a form created by the manager would work best, that way he/she receives all pertinent information.
- Create an event around the acceptance of the action plan. Invite your newly formed committee in for light refreshments one evening and toast their accomplishment in getting the approval for their initiative. Then explain what their engagement will mean for the people/families who live in the community.
- Appoint one of the onsite staff to attend the group’s meetings. Check in with the group’s leaders often to understand how things are going and help keep them on task.
- Use social media to recognize the group publicize their plan and recognize their achievements. Allow the group members a place to speak via social media.
As you can see, this list suggests a change from onsite staff as party host and event planner to owner liaison and engagement facilitator. If you have ever planned an event only to have less than a few people show up then you know the cardinal rule of social planning: people participate in that which they are invested.
Will Fisher is the Vice President of Business Development for THS national, a general contractor who believes in community. You can find more on community engagement at impact.thsnational.com.