Multifamily Industry, FAA Rise to the Occasion 

Magazine ,

By Katie Wrenn, CAPS

WRH Realty Services Inc.

2020 kicked off with a positive economic outlook, strong job market, and steady growth in multifamily. Then in March, our world as we know it was changed forever. Businesses were shut down, not knowing if or when they would open again. All over the world, people were told to stay safe at home, as much as they could. “Home” took on a new significance, as did the apartment industry’s role as essential. 

We in the multifamily industry learned what we needed to do to help staff members and residents stay safe and healthy. We instituted new processes for cleaning common areas, and learned how to connect with residents remotely. Change is a constant in property management, and we realize early on we should expect the unexpected. This was no different.

Owners and operators, suppliers, and on-site teams have learned to think outside of the box. We have had to get creative to continue to provide a level of service that our residents have come to know and deserve, and that has been even more important during these times.  Some changes were minor alterations to policies while others meant partnering with our suppliers to enhance a service amid a socially distant environment.  

The Florida Apartment Association also had to adapt. FAA jumped into virtual learning by offering a series of free webinars on timely topics with headlining speakers such as Matt Easton, Theresa L. Kitay, Lia Nichole Smith, and Beth Ziesenis. Other webinars included legal briefings with FAA attorney members Harry Heist and Ryan McCain, and a town hall meeting with Florida House Majority Leader Dane Eagle. 

While working from home, FAA staff had daily meetings to plan and coordinate how best to serve FAA members and our industry. FAA and local affiliate association executives met weekly. Staff members in communications, education and meetings, and government affairs met with colleagues across the state and across the nation, with a goal of continuous improvement despite trying times.

Advocacy is an important part of FAA’s mission, even more so during the pandemic crisis. FAA provided a wealth of resources:

  • A one-stop resource for guidance and best practices was posted on the FAA website and frequently updated with executive orders issued by the governor; FAQs and sample letters that members could use to comply with these orders; information on federal relief programs; links to resources from the National Apartment Association, the Centers for Disease Control, and more.
  • The government affairs team provided real-time status updates on local government activity such as court closures, suspensions of writs of possession, shelter-in-place orders, curfews, and, eventually, reopening policies. 
  • FAA wrote letters to the governor urging steps to protect the state’s multifamily industry through direct assistance for apartment residents struggling to pay rent, mortgage forbearance for multifamily housing providers, and other measures. 
  • Amanda Gill, FAA’s government affairs director, and Bonnie Smetzer, FAA immediate past president, served on a task force established by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and presented recommendations to the governor.
  • FAA sent press releases and an opinion article to newspapers and websites around the state, resulting in positive media coverage from the Panhandle to Southeast Florida. 

At the same time, our local affiliate associations were stepping up with webinars, legal seminars, and online education to fill the gaps created by cancellation or postponement of in-person programs and events. 

We do not know what the future holds or the full impact that COVID-19 has had or will have on our industry and our lives. We do know that it has changed the landscape of everything that we do. We have found new ways to connect with others, and we have come together as a community for the greater good. I am personally honored and humbled to work for such an amazing industry that has stepped up during these everchanging times as an essential workforce. We have shared ideas, strategies for navigating our new landscape, and worked with supplier partners to ensure a happy home for our residents. 

I am especially proud of how FAA and our strong network of regional affiliates helped guide the membership through this challenging period. Our members are truly fortunate that in Florida, we have one of the strongest affiliate networks and powerful state association. Our industry and our association continue to grow and improve through good times and hard times — I know that we will come through this crisis better than ever.