Discussions about inclusion in the property management space can emerge in two different aspects: how property managers of diverse backgrounds are treated as employees within their own companies and how tenants interact with the property and the management team.
In the latter case, those interactions can be particularly challenging because the relationship is inherently transactional. A tenant may feel at a disadvantage asking for anything beyond common courtesy when dealing with a property manager because of a perceived power imbalance. On the other hand, property managers dealing with tenants may assume that the “rules of engagement” are clear: Tenants must pay rent on time and do nothing to devalue the property. However, sometimes cultural differences can disrupt that assumed understanding.
Saadat Keshavjee, CPM, managing director of Amhurst Property Management, Ltd., in Calgary, Alberta, appreciates how cultural differences can impact tenant relations. “When people come to Canada from another country, whether that’s somewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa, India, etc., we find that cultural nuances can definitely make a difference,” Keshavjee explains. “Let’s face it, not everybody knows how to use what we use in North America in the same way that we use it. Some people don’t fully understand how a bathroom should be used here, how a kitchen should be used, or how to treat maintenance issues. So, my managers already know that if somebody arrives here and wants to rent a place, we may have to gently inculcate or train them about things like changing the filter in the furnace, for instance.”
Keshavjee goes on to say that he encourages his managers to educate tenants who might be unaware of certain common practices so that problems can be avoided.
“It’s a very delicate process. You’ve got to be very careful about what you’re saying and the tone with which you say it, because it could easily be misinterpreted. We’re not telling them how to handle their personal issues, we’re dealing purely with the property,” he explains. “We’re dealing with filters, lightbulbs, fuses, general cleanliness around bathrooms and kitchens—we address it purely from a safety point of view. For instance, we talk about fire risk. People often don’t realize that if you don’t maintain the kitchen, an oil fire can burn the whole house down. When we talk about these things from a safety, security, liability, and emergency perspective—not from a personal perspective—that is a better way to deal with an issue.”
Working with residents and listening to their concerns about topics beyond the property can also be a way to address inclusion. Pedro E. Vermales, CPM, COO of Horizon Housing Management in Oviedo, Florida, and his wife, Elizabeth Vermales, who is the company president and co-owner, hold weekly meetings with their managers to assess what is going on with the properties and with the employees themselves. They encourage their team members to raise concerns from residents and bring suggestions to the table.
Before the pandemic, the company put together many programs that tenants could take advantage of. “We’ve done surveys with the residents to see what kinds of services they would like to see,” says Vermales. “We have encouraged things like GED training and provided the location for the sessions. And we have sometimes worked with nonprofits to provide additional services—in fact, one of our managers took the training to become certified to teach financial literacy to the residents.” In the event that they do get a resident complaint, it is the Vermales’ policy to not only resolve the conflict, but to follow up with residents within the month to confirm 100% satisfaction.
Having property managers who can understand and respect these kinds of differences is what inclusion is all about. Part of what makes those kinds of interactions authentic is having managers who can draw on personal experiences or perspectives they have in common with tenants.
Kimberly Parker, ARM, senior property manager at The Abrams Management Company in Boston, has more than 30 years’ experience working in property management and can also draw on her own personal experience of having been a tenant in affordable housing growing up. She had a counselor in an after-school program who went into property management, and Parker followed her into the career. “I don’t care what neighborhood you are in, I want people to have decent housing,” she says.
“When we talk about equity, we want to make sure that everybody has a voice at the table,” Parker says. “We’re including everyone. Our managers represent the residents we serve. That’s what we look like.”
Parker credits the company’s founder with setting the right example. “Mr. Abrams was a pioneer of this sort of inclusion,” she says. She also credits her current boss, Martha Abrams-Bell, with noticing when Parker was left out of conversations in meetings or at social events and going out of her way to address it. “She would bring them over to greet me and say, ‘By the way, this is Kimberly Parker my senior property manager at The Abrams Management Company.’ Abrams-Bell really helped me with inclusion. It does no good to have you there if you can’t have a voice.”
Supporting inclusion efforts within a company furthers the goal of providing all employees with a chance to participate in—and add to—the success of the business. Kim Collins, CPM, director at CBRE Property Management, AMO, in Indianapolis, feels good about the way her group has not only welcomed diverse personnel, but also supported their participation in groups that actually address matters of inclusion.
“One of the things that our company does that I think is pretty cool is the many specialized networking groups within our larger organizations,” Collins says. “There’s a Women’s Network, an LGBTQ and Allies network, an African American networking group, and an Abilities Employees networking group. There are all kinds of different groups that our company has put out there, not only to allow people to create their own network and camaraderie within those individual spaces, but also to allow for everybody to celebrate and learn from each other.
“I think it’s great because it’s allowing those voices to become a little bit louder, a little bit stronger, and a little more heard,” Collins says. “There’s always room for improvement, but the company is striving really hard to be who they say they are, and I think that’s important.”