A student moves out of her dorm room at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in March after the … [+]
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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate in the United States, property owners in the student housing industry are getting a crash course in the challenges created by the spread of COVID-19 and how to better serve their communities.
The off-campus student housing sector is banding together in this time of crisis, according to Student Housing Business, a resource for news and information on the student housing industry, which states that “many off-campus owners and operators are grappling with a growing number of universities canceling in-person classes, and in some instances, ordering students to vacate their campuses and residence halls altogether.”
In late March, Student Housing Business held a webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on the off-campus student housing industry. Six owners and operators weighed in on best practices and advice on operations for employees at both the corporate and property level, as well as the potential impact of the pandemic on transitioning units from one tenant to another and leasing in general in 2020.
“Leaders across all facets of student housing have been sharing tips and ideas, protocols and policies amongst each other on regularly scheduled teleconference calls to make sure that the industry as a whole is handling this crisis in a uniform manner,” according to Student Housing Business. “And even more fundamentally, operators wanted to make clear that off-campus properties are open and will remain open, operating as an essential business.”
As non-essential maintenance requests have been suspended, Peak Campus, a student housing property management company based in Atlanta, is an example of property owners sending residents basic maintenance videos with step-by-step tutorials on how to solve common unit requests such as changing light bulbs.
“Late fees have been waived and evictions are being avoided in the current climate, leaving collections subject to delay,” reports Student Housing Business.
Off-campus property owners continue to monitor the decisions being made by universities and colleges for summer school and fall classes as the coronavirus cases surge and best practices to mitigate the spread of the virus evolve.
New York City-based DMG Investments is another example of how the student housing segment is adapting to a new reality as the pandemic deepens and traditional practices have been upended.
DMG has been implementing numerous initiatives at its off-campus properties in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The company’s portfolio includes properties in New Jersey, New York, Texas, Wisconsin and South Carolina.
The developer has provided housing to some on-campus students who were displaced, including international students. “This is a difficult time for everyone,” said Jeff Amengual, chief operating officer of DMG. “It is especially difficult for students who are far away from home. There is a greater degree of uncertainty for foreign students who may not be able to travel home at this time.”
Amengual said DMG is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department officials, including temporarily closing shared amenities to reduce the risk of exposure and promote social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting common areas and providing cleaning supplies to tenants. DMG has been distributing gloves and masks to students who request them.
“Very few students have moved out due to the virus,” said Amengual. “It seems they prefer to wait and see what develops and to avoid potentially infecting at-risk family members.”
Although student events such as barbecues and resident parties have been canceled as DMG works to meet social distancing guidelines, Amengual said, “We are finding ways to entertain students while they stay within their apartments. We have run a series of social media events to engage with our residents. These have ranged from a This or That? survey, occupancy surveys, social media giveaways and providing free resources for social distancing activities. Those resources have included free access to museums that give virtual tours and free in-home exercise apps.”
DMG provides free wireless connectivity and its own internet and data speeds for a faster connection while students complete coursework. When hosting live-streaming tours of the model unit, the firm has allowed current residents to participate.
“Most importantly, we are serving as a hub of communication for our tenants,” said Amengual. “We have sent information via e-blast and when necessary by phone regarding our measures for COVID-19 prevention, government relief support, face-mask distribution and social distancing tips.”
Sometimes, it’s not easy for tenants to remain calm and upbeat, but Amengual said DMG listens to students’ concerns and, if necessary, refers them to appropriate professionals for care and support.
“We always recommend that students contact their university’s health center for assistance for emotional and mental health-related concerns,” he said. “In most cases, this is a free service for students and a fantastic resource.”
The developer has researched restaurants and other suppliers of necessary items to help students manage sheltering in place.
“We have been able to provide updates regarding services that students can access,” said Amengual. “There have been several developments in this area, as different states have mandated different types of closures. We have been able to connect our residents with resources to keep them plugged into news sources that will give them information in a timely fashion such as the CDC as well as state and local health departments.”