Multifamily Operators Go Into High Gear To Prepare For Electric Vehicle Future
As the Biden administration rolled out $5B in funding over five years to help states fund public charging infrastructure, states like New York and California set 2035 as the target year for all new auto sales to be zero-emission vehicles.
Illinois set its own ambitious goal of getting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. Now, multifamily operators are hustling to get robust EV charging infrastructure in place in Chicago and across the country as consumer demand, a government push and incentives to switch to greener vehicles swiftly make it a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.
“The consideration of building buildings to accommodate electric vehicles were never a thought in the ‘80s or even the ‘90s or even the 2000s,” Carter Li, CEO and co-founder of EV solutions company Swtch, told Bisnow. “It's only in the last maybe two or three years that new buildings have even thought about what it means to provide enough electricity or power to the basement garages to have sufficient amounts of charging in those locations.”
The International Energy Agency estimated that 13% of new car sales globally in 2022 would be EVs while a 2021 CarMax survey indicated 56% of respondents expected their next auto purchase to be an electric or hybrid vehicle.
Meanwhile, Illinois and other states have rolled out consumer incentives to speed adoption even faster. Illinois had been offering $4K rebates for electric cars and $1.5K for electric motorcycles until late last year when funding for the oversubscribed program ran out.
As the demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, multifamily developers and property managers are having to quickly upgrade EV infrastructure as an amenity for their residents.
Real estate development firm Optima Inc. is one firm that has markedly increased its percentage of EV charging stations at its new properties in the Chicago area over the past six years.
The company's Optima Signature building in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood opened in 2017 with about 3% EV charging parking spaces. By 2022, when it opened Optima Lakeview, it offered nearly 10% EV charging capabilities. The firm’s newest project, Optima Verdana in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, will feature 24% of parking spaces with EV charging capabilities.
“Just from a sustainability perspective, obviously, demand is getting higher from both people wanting to be more sustainable ... and cities wanting to be more sustainable, as well as just overall demand,” said David Hovey Jr., president and chief operating officer of Optima.
At Optima’s Arizona developments, 100% of spaces are set up for EV charging in underground garages, and, as residents need EV charging capabilities, more can be wired from the garage ceiling.
Indeed, the West Coast of North America has seen some of the fastest adoption rates of EVs. Li estimates 18%-20% of new car sales in California and British Columbia, Canada, are EVs, whereas the numbers are more like 5%-6% in New York, Illinois and Ontario, Canada.
“Usually the inflection point where it just hyper-accelerates is around 5% adoption, so we're kind of [there], which is really, really exciting. I wouldn't be surprised if it keeps going up and up exponentially in the next couple years,” Li said, adding North American adoption rates of 30% by 2030 would not be a wild estimation.
"Now, what does that translate into actual vehicles in locations? Probably 10% of vehicles in those parking garages will be electric vehicles,” he said.
Property managers and developers that spoke with Bisnow widely agreed that installing EV charging at new developments is a fairly straightforward process. But it takes planning.
“We do our analysis just upfront before we even start construction,” Hovey said. “We just decide how much capacity we want out of all of our spots. We evaluate the required power service that that's going to need and then basically installation is just running conduit to each of the spaces and installing the charging stations.”
Real estate development and investment firm CRG is installing three EV chargers at its new Chapter at the Streets 245-unit multifamily development in St. Charles, Missouri.
Alison Mills, CRG’s vice president of design and development, residential, said installing EV charging at spaces closest to the elevator makes it easier to run the conduit to the parking garage and ensures the spaces are in desirable proximity to the lobby.
Two of the EV chargers at Chapter at the Streets are located at traditional spaces, and one is ADA accessible. CRG also ran conduit to an additional four spaces in case they want to add more EV chargers down the road.
The firm’s One Fulton Market mixed-use high-rise will have a similar number of EV charging stations to start, Mills said.
“Depending on the size of the project, I think it makes a ton of sense to always be installing at least two to three chargers to be there day one," she said. "I think that number, five years ago, was like one, maybe, and now it's definitely like you want at least six spaces that somebody could come up to and plug in for 30 minutes at a time."
Diana Pittro, executive vice president at RMK Management Corp., said all of its properties built in the last 20 years have EV charging stations. Over the last year and a half, the Chicago-based real estate company has been ensuring it offers EV charging capabilities at all of its 39 properties, including older properties in need of retrofitting.
“I think the last couple of years, everybody has jumped on this bandwagon, partially because of legislative parameters and partially because it has been part of sustainability — it's just been a little quieter item,” Pittro said. “I think it's something that's not going to go away. There's going to always be a need for charging stations.”
Whether the residence is a new build or retrofit to an older building determines the difficulty level — and price tag — of the project.
RMK manages a wide range of properties across four Midwestern states, though most of its properties are in Chicago and its suburbs, including high-rises, garden complexes, townhomes and single-family homes. For vintage buildings that are around 45 years old, developers are often working with limited parking spaces and older electrical systems, Pittro said.
“If you're trying to retrofit a space, and especially if it's an indoor space, you're talking about concrete work. You're talking about electric work, and if you're talking about in the city, you're talking about permitting,” Pittro said.
Pittro said the chargers themselves cost about $6K to $7K each, but the price of projects starts creeping up to the $15K to $18K per unit range for retrofits.
AMS Industries, a full-service contractor based in the Chicago area, started working on EV charging infrastructure projects in earnest last year. After completing a project for a FirstService-managed property, the company built a case study about the project, presenting it to about 200 property managers.
Now the company is working with 25 different property managers at various stages for different EV charging projects.
“It became very clear to us that EV charging was becoming a bigger and bigger, I'll call it a concern, for multifamily housing, whether it be condo or held-for-rent properties, apartment buildings in the city, and even to some degree in the suburbs," Bob Dobbins, executive vice president, client services at AMS, told Bisnow. "We went ahead and started digging into it a little more."
AMS ended up creating a checklist for property managers and condo boards to think about before starting EV charging projects. Questions include how many spaces would be needed today and in a couple of years versus 10 years down the line? Would they need charging for guests? Would they want to charge members of the public to use their chargers?
Preparing for future EV chargers can help buildings save money down the road.
“It’s really just helping your contractor understand what your needs are because the last thing you want to do is throw good money after bad,” Dobbins said. “You could easily spend a significant amount of money to prepare for an amount of charging, and then five years later, say, ‘Well, I need more.’"
Dobbins said AMS is busy with EV charging projects ranging from $41K to $1.4M, but projects only reach those higher price tags for huge buildings with hundreds of spaces.
“We haven't run into any scenarios where we can't come up with a reasonably economical plan,” Dobbins said.
Rebates can help defray some of the costs of installing EV chargers, although rebates vary by region and are subject to change quickly. For CRG’s project in St. Charles, it cost the developer $35K to install the three chargers. CRG received a $20K rebate from electric services company Ameren for the project.
Mills said the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is willing to reimburse business owners up to 80% of the cost to install chargers and is hoping to take advantage of such rebates for its One Fulton Market property.
“It's super, super motivating. It's different jurisdiction by jurisdiction, but I think there's a lot of opportunity for rebates in this space,” Mills said. To me, it's a no-brainer for most of our projects to install at least two because you're likely to get reimbursed for at least one of them.”
Li has seen EV chargers cost around $4K to $6K per unit, but electrical panel upgrades can cost another $10K-$20K. Some chargers can optimize electricity usage by shutting off once a car is fully charged and directing power to another charger, or they can charge at a slower rate depending on how much of the electric capacity is being used.
Swtch offers a $15 per month per charger management service that controls the chargers' operations, including slowing down the charging speeds based on usage, as well as a reservation system for stations in multifamily buildings.
“The most ideal situation from a condominium perspective, when parking stalls are not shared or floating but dedicated, is actually just to have everybody with their own charging hardware," Li said. "That might sound a little aggressive, but actually most of the cost in a project is not the chargers themselves, but rather all the conduit, the labor and everything like that. The chargers themselves only account for like 10%, 20% of the overall project."
Most multifamily properties have found Level 2 charging stations offer plenty of capacity for their residents, and each building has a different approach to pay for charging costs once the EV chargers are installed.
Some charge the electric bills back to the units or raise rents slightly to accommodate the electric bill. Others might offer the chargers as a building amenity or include the cost in homeowners association dues. Property managers can also profit share or install stations that require users to use credit cards to pay for their charges.
“Out of all the sustainability measures that we could be incorporating into these buildings, I think it's a really easy adopter for a lot of developers, and because the process is relatively straightforward, it's pretty easy to give that direction to the design team,” Mills said.
“I do think the buildings coming online over the next two, three, four years, you'll see a lot of those EV chargers, more than the buildings that exist today," Mills said. "I think it's something that we've been able to respond very quickly, to just seeing the uptick in adoption.”