Empowering and Engaging Maintenance Staff

Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future with Support from NeighborWorks America offers Operations and Maintenance Training

With support from NeighborWorks America, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) conducted a free, one and a half day Operations and Maintenance (O&M) training on May 17th and 18th, 2016 at Mission Main Apartments in Boston, Massachusetts. Mission Main is an affordable multifamily property managed by Winn Residential.

SAHF’s energy and water conservation efforts include a strong emphasis on human behavior as a driver of utility consumption. An organization’s maintenance staff have the best on-the-ground understanding of energy and water systems at a property; therefore, engaging them as partners in our conservation efforts is key to achieving portfolio-wide reductions. In order to empower maintenance staff and build their capacity around energy and water management, SAHF released an Operations and Maintenance Toolkit in the Spring of 2014 and held four O&M trainings in the Fall of 2014. The toolkit and trainings were developed and delivered through contracts with the New York based energy consulting firm, Bright Power Inc.

Approximately thirty staff from SAHF members and NeighborWorks organizations participated in SAHF’s recent O&M training conducted in Boston, including property level staff, senior maintenance and energy/sustainability managers at the corporate level. Participating organizations included The Community Builders (TCB), Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), Volunteers of America (VOA), The Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), Hallkeen Management, NeighborWorks Southern Massachusetts and Winn Companies.

“Building organizations that embrace a culture of energy and water conservation requires engaging staff at multiple levels in a shared vision and empowering them to be agents of change.” Stated Lynn Peterson, Senior Relationship Manager, Real Estate, NeighborWorks America.  “Maintenance staff are closest to properties’ operating systems but are typically not empowered to make upgrades that contribute to organizational goals. There is therefore additional demand for such interactive and engaging Operations and Maintenance training within the multifamily sector.”

The training focused on operationalizing the toolkit materials, using a property as a learning lab, as well as covering some basic building science and addressing organizational communication issues. SAHF also provided a demonstration of its EZ Retrofit audit tool as a way that staff can better make the case for energy improvements by including cost and saving analyses in their requests. All the attendees were highly engaged in an Energy Opportunity Walk Through including spending time in a boiler room and a model apartment unit where the instructors demonstrated routine maintenance activities and discussed common issues.

At the end of the training, one participant noted “One important thing is to stop, listen and be aware of your environment.” Peer-to-peer activities led to sharing of maintenance headaches unique to each organization and the staff shared useful practical tips and resources.