Centering Residents in Building Decisions

October 28, 2021

October 28, 2021-

As affordable housing providers strive to become more inclusive and person-centered, over the past year SAHF member, Community Housing Partners (CHP), explored new ways to deepen engagement with residents before, during and after a major rehabilitation. CHP applied SAHF’s resident benefits framework to focus on the benefits of building upgrades and to conscientiously involve residents as key partners in the decision-making process. While doing this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic had its challenges, CHP learned many valuable engagement strategies and lessons during this experience. These lessons are highlighted in our Centering Residents in Building Decisions case study.

Many times, development and operation decision makers do not have direct insight and expertise in making a home in affordable rental housing. This missing perspective may lead to harmful policies and practices around everything from building design to communication between management and residents. These decisions can improve or erode quality of life for residents and offer an opportunity to build or erode trust between the housing operator and residents. In collaboration with SAHF, the CHP team reevaluated their existing practices and developed new processes to reduce barriers for Cedar Crest Apartments residents to weigh in on decision making. This included designing survey questions and processes to gather meaningful, actionable resident feedback as part of a yearlong renovation that will be completed in October 2021.

As a result of the pandemic, CHP also made communication changes that adapted to social distancing protocols to keep residents and staff safe. While in-person communications were once routine and remains a key strategy, there are other ways housing providers can solicit resident input, assess needs, and share valuable information. To keep everyone safe and still understand what energy-efficient features and design changes residents wanted, CHP’s cross-cutting team made a survey comprised of easy-to-understand, specific, and open-ended questions available to residents online and in paper form. The team also used door tags with a QR code to access the online survey. Opportunities for help with the survey and additional feedback were also available over the phone and in person, and a website was created to supply residents with current information about the renovation process and to submit any additional questions. As a result of the feedback provided, CHP was able to incorporate several of the improvements prioritized by residents.

Providing multiple modalities to gather feedback and to communicate is an excellent way to offer, respect, and reflect resident choice. Many providers, including CHP, moved to phone and online communications during COVID-19. As the pandemic continued and necessity gave way to innovation and adaptability, providers began to understand that digital access and modes of communication are not just a means to stay engaged when properties were under quarantine but could be another way of receiving and engaging with property management and resident services –even after the pandemic has subsided—if that is what residents prefer. CHP’s Cedar Crest experience demonstrates that it is possible for housing providers to involve residents in building upgrade decisions, and CHP will carry forward these lessons to future major rehabs and retrofits.

Learn more by reading our latest case study.

-Sandra V. Serna, Lauren Westmoreland and Tawechote Wongbuphanimitr