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We completed a case study on Abrams Hall

Edgewood Management Navigates Pandemic and Compliance Concerns at New Senior Affordable Community

Problem: Affordable Housing Expertise, COVID Workaround Required for New Senior Community

As one of the first buildings to come online at The Parks at Walter Reed, a 10-plus-year multi-use redevelopment project at the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Abrams Hall Senior Apartments offers an exciting and unique living opportunity in the northern Washington, DC market.

Abrams Hall, an 80-unit senior tax credit community that includes 16 supportive housing units, also places very specific demands on a property management company.

“At Abrams Hall, it’s very complex financing. There are many layers of subsidy and different approvals and oversight that’s needed,” said Jonathan Lee, managing director of asset management with Urban Atlantic, owners of Abrams Hall and partners in The Parks at Walter Reed joint venture.

Management of Abrams Hall includes working closely with the DC Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Health and Human Services to maintain compliance.

“The process of affordable housing and all the income certification and compliance is very paper-heavy,” Lee said. “With seniors, the particular difficulty is that they’re not digitally savvy, which can complicate the compliance process.”

In addition, Abrams Hall launched in late 2019, forcing the community to conduct lease-up during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. With an extremely high-risk senior client base, extra precautions were required.

Urban Atlantic needed a property management company not only with the expertise in affordable and senior housing to navigate the intricacies of compliance, but also with the flexibility and resources to facilitate a non-traditional lease-up process amid a pandemic. Not to mention, attached to the property opening was the pressure to positively set the tone for a much larger overall development.

Solution: Edgewood Management Selected to Operate Abrams Hall

Due to the complexities involved, Urban Atlantic decided to tap longtime management partner Edgewood Management to take over operations at Abrams Hall.

“We have been partnering with Edgewood for 20-plus years. They’re our go-to for our affordable product,” Lee said. “They have very good relationships with all of the agencies in DC, and we lean on those relationships to help us navigate.”

Lee said he had confidence in Edgewood’s skill set – particularly in dealing with subsidies and compliance oversight – as well as its leadership, due to Edgewood’s track record at similar properties.

“I think there’s a level of comfort with the people and the relationship,” Lee said. “I have a great relationship with Cindy Sanquist (president and CEO of Edgewood) and Michael Leithead (executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Edgewood) and the senior team there. They’re willing to do what’s necessary to provide the customer service that we’re looking for as an owner. I know that I can always go to the executive team, if need be. Their management of our properties has shown them to have real proficiency in compliance.”

While Edgewood is comfortable managing subsidies and compliance requirements, the pandemic was new territory. With the health of prospective renters as the No. 1 priority, Edgewood’s management team tackled the lease-up process with a personalized approach.

“We were going to the homes of individual prospective renters because they didn’t feel comfortable coming to the property to fill out paperwork,” Edgewood Vice President Sheri Conde said. “We were trying to limit their exposure, so we dropped envelopes out front with lease agreements and talked them through it on the phone. We worked around what they felt comfortable doing.”

Leasing office interactions included similar protocols.

“When residents did need to come to the office, we didn’t take any chances,” Conde said. “We made sure that we had plenty of extra masks, gloves and sanitizer if they wanted to come in, so we kept them safe. We also didn’t do walk-ins, which allowed us to sanitize between every appointment.”

Communication also presented distinct challenges. Because many of Abrams Hall’s residents don’t engage electronically, the Edgewood team has to use basic forms of correspondence.

“For us, it was also about getting back to the basics. A lot of our residents don’t use email or a lot of modern technology,” Conde said. “Especially in the beginning, before they moved into the building, it was weekly phone calls to let them know what was going on and setting up a time to check back in. We mailed letters just to say, ‘Hey, we didn’t forget about you.’ We created flyers that just said, ‘We can’t wait for you to be our neighbors!’ It was a lot of written communication and phone calls to keep them updated. And, because some of our residents don’t have phones, we were often communicating through their kids or family members via email.”

Lee was impressed with dedication and care exhibited by Edgewood throughout the lease-up process.

“We had to find all sorts of ways to work around the system, and I think that Edgewood and particularly the manager went above and beyond,” he said.

Results: Deliberate Effort Drives Compliance, Resident Satisfaction

The Abrams Hall lease-up effort was undeniably impacted by COVID complications, but Lee said that Edgewood’s ability to react and adjust ultimately made the process a success.

“Everyone’s expectations had to be reset. These were very trying circumstances,” Lee said. “Given the conditions, we met our expectations. Our goal was to lease up as fast as possible, and Edgewood put in protocols to do it safely and efficiently. We all did our best job to get us to the finish, and we’re very excited to be able to address what we see as a great need in the DC Metro market for affordable senior housing.”

Lee said Edgewood was vital in ensuring that Urban Atlantic hit its budgeting numbers and met compliance requirements.

“They’ve proven to be very adept at the compliance piece,” Lee said, noting that the loans and grants funding Abrams Hall come with numerous regulatory stipulations. “There are many different agencies and requirements that Edgewood is helping us to track.”

Lee said Abrams Hall received incredible interest, thanks largely to Edgewood’s marketing strategies.

“They were able to leverage their marketing team to create and place an ad campaign that appealed to our resident population, and expand our pipeline to droves of prospects who were interested in the building,” Lee said. “Their marketing team also helped in terms of signage to bring even more attention to our specific property.”

Abrams Hall reached full occupancy in the fall of 2020. Conde said Urban Atlantic’s support and direction was incredibly beneficial throughout an unpredictable lease-up process.

“Ownership has been incredibly supportive. We held weekly calls with them throughout lease-up, just to game plan, brainstorm, receive suggestions and put ideas together,” Conde said. “It has been a very collaborative process.”

Much of the collaboration revolved around resident safety. Conde said it was important to demonstrate to residents that responsible health measures were being taken both at the property and during in-person visits from team members.

“I think once residents saw that we were doing the right things and implementing all the appropriate health protocols, they felt more comfortable,” Conde said.

Maintaining relationships and communication throughout pandemic has been key to resident satisfaction, Lee said, especially while amenities and common areas remain closed. Conde said resident satisfaction has been the best indicator of the Abrams Hall team’s success during the pandemic.

“As far as measuring success, it has really been a focus on resident satisfaction and making sure that residents are content and happy,” Conde said. “Our team went above and beyond to ensure that residents were well informed. That communication piece has been critical. Resident morale is high, and we’re happy with the direction we’re moving forward with now.”