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Choosing wisely

The case for hiring a CPM to manage federally assisted housing

By Gwen Volk, CPM
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When I started managing properties financed and assisted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1983, I quickly got up to speed on regulatory compliance. After all, wasn’t that what really mattered? As time went on, I achieved certifications in HUD occupancy, fair housing and Section 504, and low-income housing tax credits, and I studied U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development compliance, blended financing, and mortgage revenue bonds. I could create budgets for HUD, Rural Development, and my state agency bond-financed projects by carefully following the instructions that came with the forms. But all along, I considered myself a bit of an imposter. My deep dark secret was that I knew almost nothing—and I mean nothing—about real estate.

Then one day in 1990, I was approached by two of the asset managers—both CPMs—from the state agency that financed and monitored some of my properties. They said, “We think you ought to go for your CPM.” More letters behind my name? It sounded good to me. This was back in the day when you had to travel to big cities and stay in a hotel for a week to take each class.

My first ever IREM course was Professional Property Management for Federally Assisted Housing with instructors Lindsay Crump and Harold Platter, two IREM superstars. Achieving the CPM designation wasn’t easy for me.

I later earned a master’s degree in business, and that was a piece of cake compared to the CPM track because in real estate, I was starting from scratch.

For more information on the CPM designation, visit irem.org/certifications.
I earned my pin—and a lot more—in 1995. I had achieved a real degree of competence in managing real estate. As president and CEO of the property management division of the construction and development company my parents founded in 1946, I was no longer just a “regulatory guru,” but understood sticks and bricks, risk management, financial analysis, and real estate as an investment. As I continued my career, the knowledge and network I attained through IREM made it possible for me to add value to the organizations, owners, and agents that I served.

But enough about me. Let’s hear from some affordable-housing management industry leaders about why they place a high value on staffing their organizations with CPMs. George Caruso, CPM, CEO of The Cooper Companies, is now retired from the property management business, where he last served as executive vice president of the Edgewood Management Company of New Jersey. He’s well known for his legislative and regulatory chops. Caruso, who was dubbed chief knowledge officer of Edgewood, is nothing if not an encyclopedia of regulatory information and the only person I know who actually reads and can explain the federal budget. But he’s also an expert in the field of property management.

In discussing how beneficial it is to hire CPMs for your federally assisted portfolio, Caruso says, “Doing things right really does count.” And, in IREM you learn that “once you get the certification, you’re not done learning,” he adds. “When you hire CPMs, you extend and expand the knowledge base of your organization as a whole. It’s a form of risk management. Not to mention that having a highly credentialled staff is a very effective marketing strategy.”

Pam Monroe, CPM, Latter & Blum Property Management, Inc., AMO

Pam Monroe, CPM, 2009 IREM president and leader in the affordable-housing industry, is COO of Latter & Blum Property Management, Inc., AMO, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Monroe notes: “LIHTC (low-income housing tax credit) and HUD program requirements are layered, complicated, and require unique expertise. Nevertheless, all that regulatory knowledge is not a replacement for a deep understanding of principles that serve as the foundation for overseeing real estate, which can best be identified in a CPM designation, the top certification awarded by IREM.

“A CPM offers value to a company and its portfolio by providing proficiency in core elements of real estate best practices,” including the areas of financial analysis, maintenance, risk management, human resource matters, and marketing. Monroe says that IREM’s exacting ethical standards, training, tools, and resources prepare CPMs to add value to their organizations. And let’s not forget about networking. “If you don’t have any experience with a new assignment in another state or region, networking opportunities with colleagues across the nation can help you navigate while saving you time and resources,” she says.

Melissa Fish-Crane, CPM, principal and COO of Peabody Properties, Inc., and current president of IREM’s Boston Metropolitan Chapter, observed that when she joined her family’s affordable housing management firm in 1996 there was one CPM on board who was ready to retire.

Fish-Crane made the decision to attain the CPM designation herself and to promote it among the staff of the longstanding and still-growing firm.

Melissa Fish-Crane, CPM, Peabody Properties, Inc.

She asks, “Why differentiate between commercial and affordable? We all need the core competencies that the CPM exemplifies. The well-rounded curriculum embodying different disciplines teaches candidates the fundamentals of property management.”

Fish-Crane has been pleased with the high performance exhibited by her CPM staffers, who understand how to maximize the value of the asset. Through IREM, and specifically by developing staff through the CPM track, organizations can develop higher standards of operations with employees who understand and appreciate the bottom line.

I couldn’t agree more with my esteemed colleagues. Companies engaged in the management of HUD, Rural Development, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, tax credit, and bond properties should give their existing employees the opportunity and encouragement to seek the CPM designation. This means devoting time and resources to help them achieve and maintain the certification. And in future hires, consider the value that applicants who have achieved or are candidates for the CPM designation will add to your organization.

Journal of Property Management

Gwen Volk, CPM, is president of Gwen Volk INFOCUS, Inc., an affordable housing consulting and training firm assisting clients in navigating the complexities and challenges of the programs and funding that provide housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. She has served on IREM’s Federal Housing Advisory Board since 2009.

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