|Nationwide—More and more owners and managers are discovering that opening a Neighborhood Networks center on their property is a wise investment. Programs and services offered at a Neighborhood Networks center can make a property more competitive, attract new residents, lower vacancy rates, and stabilize tenancy. Some properties also have reported that they saved thousands of dollars in security costs with the addition of a Neighborhood Networks center. In addition, increasing residents' levels of self-sufficiency supports prompt payment of rent, and helps residents move into market-rate housing, releasing affordable housing units for others with greater need.
For Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO), opening a Neighborhood Networks center has more to do with upholding the company's mission and values, and less to do with contributing to its bottom line.
"More than Words on a Page"
As one of the nation's largest owner and operator of apartment communities, Denver, Colorado-based AIMCO operates nearly 1,163 communities in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These communities serve nearly 750,000 residents each year.
"I think the success of AIMCO can be attributed to every employee's strong commitment to the corporate mission and values," explained Jim Kosiara, grants and resident services manager for AIMCO. "AIMCO's mission is to 'consistently provide quality apartment homes in a respectful environment delivered by a team of people who care.' This mission is supported by the five AIMCO values-integrity, respect, collaboration, customer-focused, and performance. These are more than words on a page. It is a philosophy that every AIMCO team member strives to achieve. The truth is: AIMCO would have embraced the concept of opening a Neighborhood Networks center regardless of whether or not a center offers financial benefits. For us, it is more about quality and what our properties offer residents."
The Proof Is in the Portfolio
To understand just how committed to the Neighborhood Networks Initiative AIMCO is, one only needs to review its list of Neighborhood Networks centers. Currently, AIMCO operates 24 Neighborhood Networks centers in California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
"We opened our first centers in 1997 in Pennsylvania," reported Kosiara. "Those centers, the Pavilion Neighborhood Networks Center in Philadelphia and the Country Commons Neighborhood Networks Center in Bensalem, are still going strong today. Each year, we try to open about three centers. In 2008, we opened three new centers. Our goal is to open three more centers in 2009."
While representatives from AIMCO's corporate headquarters assist properties with opening a Neighborhood Networks center, the decision to open a center does not come from corporate. "It is not mandated that a property open a Neighborhood Networks center," said Kosiara. "We typically share with properties the successes that are taking place at centers, and ask property staff if they are interested in opening a center. We then follow up with those properties that express an interest in establishing a Neighborhood Networks center. We then work with the properties to help them get their center up and running. We also work very closely with Neighborhood Networks and the local HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] Neighborhood Networks Coordinator and staff to write a business plan using START [the Strategic Tracking and Reporting Tool]."
Programs Tailored to Fit Residents' Needs
Because AIMCO properties are home to a diverse population of residents, the programs and services offered at its onsite Neighborhood Networks centers also vary. "The staff members at each of our centers are very much in tune with what residents need and want," stated Kosiara. "Therefore, we give them complete freedom to plan and organize center programs and services. Centers offer everything from workforce development classes to art classes. Our centers that serve the Bayview Hunters Point community in San Francisco, California, started a digital storytelling class that was extremely successful. They worked with the local Digital Storytelling office to secure grants for the class. They also received software for the class from TechSoup, a Neighborhood Networks national partner. Volunteers from Digital Storytelling came to the center to conduct a train-the-trainer class on digital storytelling that taught center staff and residents how to offer a digital storytelling class. The centers then launched their own digital storytelling program."
Kosiara also points out that finding quality staff members who are dedicated to the Neighborhood Networks Initiative is critical to a center's success. "When the staff cares, the residents are more engaged and active in center programs," related Kosiara. "I am always impressed with the tireless efforts and enthusiasm exhibited by our Neighborhood Networks center staff members."
Creating Communities of Qualities®
AIMCO's commitment to providing "quality apartment homes in a respectful environment" has not gone unnoticed. In March 2009, AIMCO will receive Communities of Quality (COQ) Corporate Partner Designation from the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) at its winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The designation is reserved for management companies that have at least 50 percent of their property portfolio accepted into the COQ National Recognition program. Through the National Recognition program, multifamily properties can be certified as having achieved a high standard of excellence in the way they are managed, the services they provide residents, the experience and training of personnel, and other criteria. NAHMA created the COQ National Recognition program as a way to acknowledge a company that provides the highest-quality affordable housing to lower-income residents while adding value to its larger community.
"In 2007, AIMCO had the largest number of NAHMA-designated communities of quality," concluded Kosiara. "This year, we had 81 properties, which is the largest. Having Neighborhood Networks centers on our properties helps us to create communities of quality. It is all about what you can offer residents, and how you are helping people better themselves and their lives so they can move up and out."
More information about Neighborhood Networks and contact information for your local HUD Neighborhood Networks Coordinator can be found on this Web site. Or you can call the Neighborhood Networks Information Center toll-free at (888) 312-2743. The hearing impaired may access the number via TTY by calling the Federal Information Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.
For more information about AIMCO Neighborhood Networks centers, contact:
Grants and Resident Services Manager
4582 South Ulster Street Parkway
Suite 1100, 935P
Denver, CO 80237