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Pandemic To Precipitate Permanent Changes To Multifamily Amenities

Shutting down the amenities in multifamily properties was necessary for public health, but pressure is building on managers to bring back a semblance of normalcy after several months of enforced isolation.

“There are a lot of people who have cabin fever and need that gym,” Xfinity Communities Senior Manager Richard Harris said Tuesday during Bisnow’s Chicago Deep Dish: Property Management During the Pandemic webinar.  

But with the pandemic still raging in many states, opening up closed amenities will need to be done carefully in order to protect residents while building confidence that an active lifestyle can be pursued safely.

Fifield Cos.' Logan Apartments in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood.

“What we’re guiding our clients to is a slow opening,” FirstService Residential Illinois President Asa Sherwood said.

His firm provides management to thousands of community associations, including homeowners associations, condominium associations and co-ops. It hasn’t adopted any companywide policies but is instead analyzing each property and making a range of small decisions, such as removing towel service from gyms and pools.

CityPads founder Andy Ahitow agreed companywide policies are impractical, and any plan to open up a building needs to take its unique characteristics into account. Many CityPads tenants live in micro-units, and the necessary social distancing and isolation may hit these residents harder than those in roomy apartments.

“We’re really concerned about forcing tenants to quarantine in micro-units,” he said.

Preserving their psychological health has to be considered when deciding how to open up some amenities.

The pandemic seems likely to force permanent changes to what amenities owners and managers offer tenants, according to Randy Fifield, chairwoman of Fifield Cos. Her firm, which has developed thousands of apartments, mostly in Chicago and Los Angeles, now has buildings packed with residents working from home, and many say they enjoy taking part in online exercise classes, book clubs, coffee hours and other community activities, features Fifield said will most likely stick around.

Clockwise from top left: CityPads founder Andy Ahitow, Xfinity Communities Senior Manager Richard Harris, Fifield Cos. Chairwoman Randy Fifield and FirstService Residential Illinois President Asa Sherwood.

“Our tenants are happy and Zooming, and we have yoga and pilates online for them,” she said.

Ahitow added that providing internet connectivity has always been an important strategy for his firm, but the lesson of the past few weeks is that from now on, increased bandwidth will be a must for many residents.

“Don’t try to cheap it out and think that just giving them a free internet connection is sufficient,” he said.

Worries about using public transportation could also outlast the worst of the crisis, Fifield said, and multifamily properties that provide residents walkable environments with grocery stores and park space nearby will continue doing well with prospective renters.

Sherwood pointed out that when Chicago’s Lake Point Tower was built in the 1960s, it had a grocery store that later closed.

“This past year, they redeveloped the grocery store, and it’s now the building’s top amenity,” he said.

The need to provide safe alternatives to public transportation will also strengthen existing trends in multifamily development, Ahitow added.

“Bike storage is something we have prioritized, but it’s something we may need to prioritize even more,” he said.