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Camden Relief Fund Aims To Provide Financial Aid To Tenants Faster Than The Government

Camden Property Trust Chairman and CEO Ric Campo

Major multifamily owner and operator Camden Property Trust Monday kicked off a new initiative that could put money in the pockets of struggling tenants faster than the U.S. government.

Last week, Camden announced it had established a $5M relief fund for tenants experiencing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. That money will be directly funded by Camden.

Affected tenants will be asked to complete a form and provide reasonable proof of a job loss or reduction of income. If they meet the criteria, tenants can receive a one-time, non-repayable grant of up to $2K, which can be used for any purpose — not just to pay rent.

Applications opened today at 10 a.m. Central Time.

“We just thought the best thing we could do for people who have lost their jobs or had income disruptions from their key business or whatever, is that we could help them financially,” Camden Chairman and CEO Ric Campo told Bisnow.

Camden, which runs 164 properties across eight states, is a major player in the U.S. multifamily market.

The company had already waived late fees for rent, implemented a moratorium on evictions and sent out renewal notices with no rent increases.

Campo said the Camden Cares Resident Relief Fund was created as a “go big” idea to help tenants receive financial assistance quickly, recognizing that one-off payments to individuals under the recently passed CARES Act could take weeks or even months to receive.

“We're a very large multifamily owner, and we have lots of resources. Five million dollars, at the end of the day, it's going to be very important for people to get it, but in the scheme of Camden, we have no problem coming up with $5M,” Campo said.

Camden Property Trust Chairman and CEO Ric Campo.

More than 6.6 million people applied for unemployment in the week ending March 28, eclipsing the all-time record for weekly claims set in the prior week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In addition, nonfarm payroll employment fell by 701,000 in March, ending the longest streak of monthly job gains in U.S. history at 113 months. The unemployment rate rose to 4.4%.

As businesses shutter and many find themselves out of work, there are concerns that the $2.2 trillion stimulus package may not provide affected individuals, families and businesses enough cash to keep afloat.

Despite the growing rate of unemployment, Campo said that so far, Camden has not seen any widespread issues with tenants unable to pay rent.

“We haven't seen any blips. We actually had rent coming in a little quicker because people are home with nothing to do but pay their rent,” Campo said.

That could change in the coming months, depending on how long the pandemic continues to weigh on the U.S. economy.

Campo told Bisnow that right now, the Camden Cares Resident Relief Fund is set at $5M, though that number could change based on what happens in the future.

“You always hope that you won't need more, but we'll just have to see how it goes,” Campo said.

Camden has also created an emergency pay plan for its own employees. The plan is intended for employees that are unable to work at the moment, because they need to care for children or another family member, or have another situation that prevents them from working.

“If you need to be paid during this time frame and you're not working, we'll just call it emergency pay, and so we're paying every one of our people full time,” Campo said.

As of this week, the company employs 1,689 people. Campo said there are about 150 Camden employees on emergency pay right now. Camden has also frozen vacation and sick pay, so that any coronavirus-related absences will not affect employee’s existing balances.

The company has established a $1M fund for employees whose income has been affected by the pandemic. This could be if a two-income household has lost a job, or experienced some other disruption to finances. Eligible employees can receive up to $3K as a one-time grant.

Of the $1M fund, $750K was sourced from Camden, while the remaining $250K was personally funded by senior executives. Applications will be processed in a similar fashion to those for the resident fund, placing a priority on speed.

“It's the same kind of deal, where you apply on Monday and get the check on Tuesday,” Campo said.

Richard Campo, Toby Mills and Ric Campo on the work site of Camden Downtown in Houston.

Not every multifamily company has a spare $5M in their coffers to give away. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t find a way to help tenants in this difficult time, according to Campo.

Instead, a multifamily owner and operator could find ways to offer smaller relief, relative to their own size and portfolio.

“I don't think it's limited to big companies because we have big money,” Campo said. “I think small operators have their way to deal with it as well.”

Camden is regularly communicating with other major multifamily operators around the country, to trade notes about how each company is dealing with the challenges presented by the pandemic.

Campo said his company has already had conversations with other multifamily companies about what they’re doing to help tenants, and what else they might do.

“We have discussed it with others, and others are considering it,” Campo said.

By helping residents, providing good service and continuing to perform maintenance and repairs safely during such a difficult time, Campo said he thinks it will only bolster Camden’s brand awareness and loyalty.

“I think that will be good for us, long-term, and good for our residents as well.”