Camden takes steps to ensure its residents and employees are safe and productive.
This is the third in a recurring series of articles looking at how apartment owners, managers and developers have mobilized to protect themselves and their residents from the spread of the novel (meaning new) coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S.
While the situations are different, Camden Chairman of the Board and CEO Ric Campo thinks Hurricane Harvey has given the company a template for operating as concerns about COVID-19 shut down the economy.
“We’re dealing with it the way we dealt with Harvey and other hurricane dislocations, where you say, ‘Look, if you can’t pay okay, we get it,’” Campo says. “We’re not going to throw you out after the first 30 days. We’re going to work with you. We’re doing this in a way that’s adaptable just to keep people in their homes. We’ve been very consistent with that and any major dislocation disaster.”
Even during The Great Recession, Camden focused on keeping its residents in their apartments even when they had job losses. “We’ve worked with them in getting payment plans or try and help them find roommates,” Campo says.
Campo says the company is working on coming up with a program that allows its residents to stay in their apartments. But he admits there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
“In some places, you don’t have a lot of dislocation, or at least not a lot of dislocation yet, and in some cases, you have a lot of dislocations, depending on where the property is and who its customer base is,” Campo says.
Aside from working with residents in trouble, Camden is also doing emergency maintenance in their apartments. “Emergency would be if they have no power or if they have a big flood or something like that,” Campo says.
Also, Camden has closed all interior amenity areas and encouraged residents to communicate with the company via phone, text and email. “We do have a Camden web portal for each property, so we’ve been doing a lot of communicating on the web portal,” Campo says. “Our cleaning protocol is also very different than what we had before, both indoors and outdoors.”
Camden is also monitoring its bandwidth and systems in its communities. “Residents are working from home,” Campo says. “We are trying to make sure that everything they need is working well. That includes making sure that we have the right Internet speed.”
Above all else, Campo says Camden wants to protect its employees and residents. “Out of our 1,700 employees, I have probably 600 or probably 700 that are in corporate offices or regional offices,” Campo says. “Those folks are all working from home. We’re doing work from home/skeleton crews in offices where they need to be.”
One investment that is paying off for the REIT is an Oracle cloud conversion that Camden recently implemented. At the time, implementation was a pain.
“It was not a fun, fun adventure,” Campo says. “It took two years longer and twice as much money as we thought. It was very painful.”
But, now as corporate and regional staff are working from home, the system has been a godsend. “The good news is that we don’t have any enterprise software sitting anywhere except in the cloud,” he says. “It’s much easier to work from home in the cloud.”
The system has helped Camden pay bills or run payrolls without a problem. “We’ve done payroll for 1,700 people at home, which is pretty amazing,” Campo says.
But there are still issues to solve. “One of the challenges that we never thought about was mail,” Campo says. “How do you deal with mail? How do you deal with not just processing, but also when people aren’t there to take their mail? People still send a lot of invoices.”