One Year Later – What Columbia Residential Learned From the Pandemic
By Aaron Swain, President of Property Management and Operations, Columbia Residential
Last year, the world changed when COVID-19, an unprecedented pandemic, was declared a public health emergency in the U.S. By March, many states were instituting stay-at-home orders, forcing businesses to close and many Americans to sequester from society in the safety of our homes. And while some property management companies closed offices and had site employees working from home, Columbia Residential made the decision to remain on-site and available to assist our residents—particularly our senior residents who were vulnerable and, in many cases, living alone.
Columbia Residential made the decision to remain on-site and available to assist our residents—particularly our senior residents who were vulnerable and, in many cases, living alone.
From that moment, our team mobilized into action as essential workers, dedicated to serving the needs of our residents despite the risk of exposure for themselves and their families.
First, we closed the offices to the public while our team continued to report to work. In order to ensure the safety and wellness of our team, we ordered a large supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) for all staff, including masks, personal hand sanitizer and sanitizer throughout the building. We also increased the building sanitizing schedule to deep cleaning two times per day for common areas and high-touch surfaces.
After preparations were in place, we began offering meetings by appointment. We also started fulfilling emergency work orders in residences and then routine work orders in accordance with CDC guidelines. During this time, we had weekly company-wide town hall meetings via Zoom to ensure our team had the necessary resources to continue serving our residents to the best of their ability.
The financial impact of the pandemic on residents—primarily resulting from job loss and having to stay home from work with their children while schools were closed—negatively affected residents’ ability to pay rent. To support residents during this difficult time, the Columbia Residential Property Management team immediately began corresponding and meeting with affected families to discuss options and resources that were available to them, including walking them through the rental assistance process. By working diligently with local service agencies, the Resident Services team was able to garner over $850,000 in rental assistance which went directly to pay for residents’ rent.
The Resident Services team was able to garner over $850,000 in rental assistance which went directly to pay for residents’ rent.
We also pivoted our approach for our two major annual events. For our Back to School Bash in August, we safely dropped off 1,083 backpacks filled with school supplies directly to the doors of our residents, most of whom were homeschooling at that time. And in December, we coordinated a virtual “Adopt a Family” holiday gift drive. Residents created wish lists through Amazon that we posted on a dedicated platform without any identifying information. The program was promoted nationally on our website and social media channels. As a result, all 100 families who participated in the program were sponsored through generous donations by our team members, corporate sponsors, vendors, and other colleagues.
While the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations has enabled our team and our residents to begin resuming life in a “new normal” environment, we are still experiencing the lingering financial impact of the pandemic. We are continuing to provide rental assistance resources to our residents in need and working closely with service agencies to obtain financial assistance for them.
We are continuing to provide rental assistance resources to our residents in need and working closely with service agencies to obtain financial assistance for them.
Indeed, this has been an important year of learning, adapting, and being resourceful to respond to a rapidly changing environment that none of us could have imagined. And, I have never been more proud of our team for rising to the challenge and continuing to carry out the mission for Columbia Residential to provide quality, safe and affordable housing for low and moderate-income families.