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Connectivity Goes From Luxury To Necessity For Multifamily Developers

Whether they are adjusting to the prospect of more residents working from home or to the increased necessity of internet connectivity that was highlighted by so many aspects of life moving online in one fell swoop, multifamily owners and developers are making changes to meet residents’ shifting needs.

One major effect of the coronavirus pandemic on multifamily has been to turn tech amenities that might have been considered a perk in the past into near necessities for new projects, experts say.

Shared areas for residents to work are in demand in multifamily projects.

One addition to market-rate apartment developments is areas in the building where residents can work remotely in a shared space, said Rick Aiken, vice president of the architecture firm WHA. However, these coworking areas are designed so that at night, they can still be used as communal gathering spaces.  

“They’re designed in a more contemporary, luxury way” rather than just as a straight-ahead, single-use office space in the building, Aiken said during a panel at Bisnow’s Orange County State of the Market digital event. 

The panel was rounded out by Innovative Housing Opportunities CEO Rochelle Mills, The Bascom Group Managing Partner Jerry Fink, The Irvine Co. Apartment Development Division President Chris Marsh and TMC Financing Senior Vice President, Business Development Jennifer Davis. Real estate attorney Amanda Donson of Allen Matkins moderated. 

In the past, Innovative Housing Opportunities' Mills said, the affordable housing developer has been working on ways to close the digital divide — the gap between those who have easy access to the internet and computers and those who don’t — for their residents.

Though statewide, 91% of Californian households have access to high-speed internet and 85% of them have access to a computer, those numbers are much lower for low-income households, a study from the University of Southern California and the California Emerging Technology Fund found. 

Twenty-nine percent of households earning less than $40K a year have no internet connection or can only access the internet through a smartphone, which is considered being “underconnected,” since smartphones have more limited capabilities than a computer. Pandemic-related closures of schools, libraries and businesses underscored the important role these places often play in increasing internet connectivity for low-income Californians. 

Mills said that in looking at projects that are in the pipeline now, IHO is adding connectivity features like WiFi in the common areas so that residents can always go somewhere within their complex to access the internet.

“We would have thought in the past that those were luxuries, but they are becoming part of the basic program,” Mills said. 

A similar situation is occurring on the market-rate front, The Irvine Co.’s Marsh said. The Irvine Co. has been investing for a few years in installing fiber internet in its complexes and has it now in almost all of its communities.  

“We do think it’s important to have tech-enabled properties, units and common areas to provide the bandwidth that can support ever-increasing [resident] demands,” Marsh said. “When you think about home-schooling, video content, increased usage over time, it’s just been huge.”