Our members were asked to provide their insight and expertise on emerging trends for the upcoming new year in the affordable housing industry. They shared their knowledge of what they see as the most significant trends for the upcoming year.

NAHMA executive members were asked: Look into your crystal ball, what will be the biggest trend in the affordable housing industry for 2021?

Community Housing Services Inc., Phil Carroll, SHCM, NAHP-e, president
As I look toward 2021, I find that my crystal ball is a bit foggy in such uncertain times. So, what can we expect from 2021? Hopefully, as vaccines become available, life can return to normal or at least a new normal, whatever that may look like. These will continue to be uncertain times.

We are nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we live our lives and manage our properties has been greatly impacted. We all have had to adapt, and it hasn’t been easy. We have asked a lot of those who work for us. All of our frontline staff have had very challenging and stressful days. Most have felt the impact of the loss of someone close. This has been a very difficult time. We have tried to adjust schedules, but in the end, our essential jobs need to be done.

Through my foggy crystal ball, I can see all those who work so hard in these difficult times. The character and compassion they have shown to those they work with and to our residents who struggle with loneliness, isolation, unemployment, homeschooling, and the uncertainty of a future still undefined has been an inspiration to witness, even as they have similar challenges.

Our first priority must be to those who are on-site doing this essential and difficult work. Every decision needs to reflect this mission. As an industry, we exhibit our character as we thoughtfully navigate these uncharted waters. I believe we have been successful, but as this continues, our focus must not wane. My foggy crystal ball sees an industry that has stepped up to this pandemic and has the resolve to successfully see it to the end.

CSI Support & Development, Nancy Evans, SHCM, NAHP-e, CEO
We see two big trends for the coming year. The first will be discovering what changes we need to make to effectively manage our properties after the global pandemic comes to an end. We don’t expect to return to life before COVID-19, so we must consider how we will conduct business, especially in areas such as maintenance, leasing, and construction. Office spaces will shrink now that we have seen how productive staff can be working from home. Good communication will continue to be essential, and our reliance on technology will grow by leaps and bounds. Developing strong data infrastructures within our properties will be critical as the demand for inexpensive Wi-Fi increases.

The second trend we see for 2021 is the growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Businesses across the country will implement diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and will need to monitor those policies to ensure they are being consistently followed and updated. The housing industry will play a key role in the movement toward equality, and we should expect support from the new administration once it takes office.

GK Management Co. Inc., Sarah Furchtenicht, FHC, executive vice president
Looking and planning for 2021 has been a unique experience because the pandemic has created different obstacles to tackle and many laws and regulations to be compliant with. Truly, the housing industry has incurred a market disruption, which has required ingenuity and collaboration to navigate, and many of the new best practices will continue post-pandemic. When looking at trends for 2021, operating digitally will be the biggest trend I see for the future of affordable housing, whether it be digital signing to online applications and/or electronic processes for the recertification process. Green buildings and energy efficiency will also be a big focus. In addition, with more residents purchasing electric cars, charging stations will be more in demand. Diversity, inclusiveness, and equality in the workplace and in the demographics of the communities will also be a continued theme in strategic planning and written policies. GK is planning for increased costs in repairs (catch up on in-unit repairs that were suspended due to the Stay at Home Order in California), supplies (more costly and the need for more quantities), many more applicants for the waiting lists (already have seen a large increase in people contacting us about availability), and difficulty evicting a noncompliant resident.

Many urban areas will see a decrease in market rents, which we fear will affect our ability to obtain Mark-Up-to-Market (MUTM) rent increases. GK is also planning for increased reporting requirements due to state mandates that will require manpower to complete. Our concern is that additional manpower will need to be hired to stay compliant without the ability to raise rents to cover the additional payroll. We are hopeful for 2021 as more of our country is in desperate need for housing that our government will fund and create incentives for developers to want to build affordable housing.

MEND Inc., Eileen Wirth, SHCM, FHC, NAHP-e, president and CEO
In looking forward to 2021, it seems everyone is on alert for the effects of eviction moratoriums enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will impact not only affordable housing but all types of residential property.

What must also be considered is the “below the surface” consequences of these actions and the specific impact to affordable and income-restricted rental housing.

Yes, there will be a backlog of eviction cases, but the residual impact will be the number of vacancies that arise from clusters of evictions. Maintenance teams will be challenged by completing apartment turnovers simultaneously in greater numbers.

In addition, screening of applicants for these increased vacancies will stretch the resource of administrative time. Particular challenges will occur at properties with multiple funding sources. Compliance errors can occur with the differing program and documentation requirements at blended funding properties, particularly when faced with greater than normal vacancies.

Additional impacts to affordable housing from this crisis are the cutbacks in funding and delays in the development of affordable housing.

It was noted recently that the financial crunch resulting from the pandemic has strained municipal budgets. Funding of affordable housing, whether preservation or new development, has been reduced significantly, with limited municipal funds diverted to needs such as unemployment or other support programs. With fewer dollars available, affordable housing development will be affected for years to come. In fact, it is projected that this impact will be 20,000 fewer affordable homes developed in New York City alone over the coming years.

Construction shutdowns and slowdowns have delayed progress on developments in process. Shortfalls and delays in obtaining materials have increased construction costs just as sources of funds are contracting.

There is also speculation that the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a major funding source for affordable housing, is decreasing, meaning less funding for new affordable rental homes. This reduction in value was being noted prior to the pandemic and has just been exasperated by the economic downturn—businesses have less income to offset, making the credits less attractive.

With the affordable housing nationwide shortfall exceeding 7 million units, this perfect storm of financial factors will impact affordable housing development for many years.

Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp., Noel Gill, NAHP-e, SHCM, CPO, executive vice president
The pandemic of 2020 created unique opportunities by necessity. The biggest trends in affordable housing will be the investment in and conversion to electronic systems that create electronic web-based interactions and paperless processes. 2020 taught us that our systems must be flexible, our communities want and need a way to communicate electronically, and there is an opportunity for efficiency in our businesses.

  • Acceptance of applications online for safe interaction when necessary, and we know the younger generation prefers to apply electronically.
  • 2020 saw our highest participation level in online/electronic rental payments; communities want to be able to pay and collect rental payments online or electronically.
  • We’re seeing more communication electronically, and we need to be able to receive and process work orders, provide teleservices, provide access to resident ledgers and opportunities for self-reporting.
  • Electronic data management has been moved to the front of the line allowing remote file storage and making it possible to effectively telecommute. Agencies are moving to electronic file reviews and using electronic systems to upload file audits.

Like it or not, the pandemic and the younger generation are driving electronic business interaction. There is an opportunity to create efficiencies in our businesses as these systems are adopted.

Wallick Communities, Amy Albery, chief operating officer
Growth in the use of technology, creative deal structuring, and innovation. Leveraging technology to connect with our residents and potential applicants became increasingly important in 2020 with the ever-changing environment of the pandemic and will remain an area of growth in 2021. The demand for affordable housing is at an all-time high, and developers are getting even more creative in structuring deals to maximize the number of additional units in the market. We will see more creativity in 2021 as the industry works to fill the gap between need and availability. The pathway to success in both technology growth and creative deal structuring will come through innovation, which will be influenced by the pandemic and a stronger focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I truly feel 2021 will set itself up as a year to remember.

WSH Management Inc., Anthony Sandoval, NAHP-e, president and CEO
The main key emerging trend that I have seen in 2020 is using technology to help us work smarter and not harder. 2020 has been such a strange year, but it has made us look at how we perform general functions within our organization and what technology is available to assist in performing those functions.

The one technology many of us have been forced to use is online/virtual meetings. Zoom, GoToMeeting, Teams, and other tools have all been very helpful this year so that we can still communicate with our employees and even residents and still get some sense of meeting with the person other than just a phone call.

Below is a listing of other technology items that my company embraced this year:

  • We started using YouTube for training items when we cannot train in person. This technology is not a new technology, but my company has not used it or saw it as a training tool, and we do now.
  • We also started using Yardi Concierge, which provides residents the opportunity to make appointments to available common areas online. It also allows the property management team to block out times so that those common areas can be cleaned and sanitized after use.
  • My company also started using a product called HappyCo that took inspections from a pen and pencil to now being able for staff to use their smartphones and integrating into our property management software any work orders that arise from the inspections.
  • We also started using Office 365 using One Drive. This allows multiple users to view/edit a document at the same time. We started using this with the new Weekly PPE [personal protection equipment] Inventory Tracker that we put in place early on during COVID-19 when PPEs were difficult to obtain. We also used it in our 2021 budget process so all information could be shared between the properties, regional property management, and corporate at the same time to review/edit budget items without saving multiple copies.
  • Another technology software that we started using is Strategic Solutions by Grace Hill. This product puts all your company policies and procedures online. This was very helpful as we had to create or change all policies regarding COVID-19. This software also allows all employees of my company to have access to the policies and procedures from their smartphones.

I have had to embrace technology in order to complete key tasks at my company. This technology helped us to be able to continue operating from multilocations and virtually.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of the switches to the above technologies were easy, but once we became committed and we didn’t have other choices due to COVID-19, it did allow us to work smarter and not harder.