Earlier this year Catholic Charities Housing Services (CCHS) of Yakima was profiled by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission for their “smart, sustainable practices in affordable housing.” We are proud to be affiliated with CCHS and the great work they do, both in developing new housing and crafting forward-thinking approaches to the preservation of their older apartments.
Over the last several years CCHS and Beacon have partnered on a variety of creative asset management projects, in addition to the developing new agricultural worker communities together. In 2011-12, aided by a MacArthur Grant through the Housing Trust Fund of the State of Washington, we helped CCHS conduct an asset management analysis of their smallest and oldest properties, including a “green analysis” of each.
The resulting Portfolio Preservation Plan revealed some surprising truths related to the use and cost of water and energy at each property. For example, at some properties water accounted for up to 95% of overall utilities costs. And at many buildings, the local public housing authority utility allowances did not accurately reflect the actual electricity usage at CCHS properties, essentially overpaying tenants thousands of dollars a year in utility reimbursements.
Holly Anderson, Asset Manager at CCHS, quickly got to work implementing several changes. Under her guidance, CCHS examined water use both inside and outside of buildings, as well as the local municipal water rate structure of each community. Where it was beneficial given the rate structure, low-flow fixtures were implemented and in-unit laundry removed throughout older properties first. Holly also ordered extensive Landscape CNAs resulting in recommissioned irrigation systems and improved bilingual irrigation manuals; both changes conserving water and saving thousands of dollars at some properties.
In 2014 Beacon assisted CCHS in working with the WSHFC to change the utility allowance structure on several properties away from the local public housing authority allowances, since these did not match up well with the actual tenant electricity expenditures at each property. Beacon assisted with gathering twelve months of continuous electricity data on all households and presented the data and changes to the WSHFC on behalf of CCHS, in compliance with the State regulations. As a result CCHS generates an additional $4,000 to $7,000 in operating revenue per year at each property, greatly impacting the financial integrity of each small community, making things like consistent reserve payments and property upkeep much more possible.
CCHS property management staff took great care to provide adequate notice of the changes to tenants, both in English and Spanish, explaining the reason for the change since rents were increasing. Holly reports that “There was some pushback, but there hasn’t been a single complaint that has gone past our property management. Tenants may not like the increase, but it is well explained: They’ve been underpaying on their utility allowance for a certain number of years, and now we’re just matching their allowance to what they’re actually spending.”
It was a pleasure for us to assist CCHS on these asset management projects. Beacon enthusiastically undertakes these assignments with current and longstanding clients whenever possible, reflecting our deep commitment to the entire life cycle of affordable housing projects with our clients.