The outmoded stereotype of “housing project” has evolved into what many affordable housing developments are today: home for residents who have pride of place regardless of income, and profitable business ventures for management companies and owners.

To change from the old image to the new – and to reap the benefits brought on by a property’s transformation – requires a set of strategic interventions in at least three principal characteristics of the property:

  • Its outer presentation, including overall curb appeal, maintenance and security
  • Its inner resources, including maintenance and upgrading of electrical, heating, plumbing and other systems; repairs to damaged property; and replacement of items such as carpeting and paint
  • Its residents, including eliminating unhealthy and illegal activity, such as drug dealing on the part of some; making sure the property is fully leased; reducing accounts receivable; and improving resident morale and quality of life

To turn around a problem property, owners and managers should review strategies that have proven over time to result in success.
Here are some to consider:

Strategy 1. Make a capital investment that leads to long-term results

Neglected properties are not only unattractive and demoralizing, they are dangerous. Physically, old heating systems, missing smoke alarms or sprinkler systems, crumbling steps, broken windows and other problems are serious health and safety hazards.

Psychologically, such neglect leads some residents to figure nobody cares what happens in or around the property. In addition, neglected security could lead to drug dealing and other illegal activities.

Most problem properties also experience high resident turnover (because as soon as they can afford to, the good residents move out), evictions, vacancies and other drains on the books.

Making an appropriate capital investment helps the owner and management company regain control over the property.

It sends a message to residents and to the larger community that something serious is about to happen. A new set of standards is put in place. Most residents appreciate the new conditions and amenities, and especially the added safety if new security measures (like better locks or secure entryways) are put into place.

Energy-efficient appliances, windows, doors, furnaces, air conditioning and other systems have proven to be excellent long-term investments. They also greatly improve the quality of life for residents.

Strategy 2. Develop an effective relationship with the local police department

If people are worried about their personal safety, no amount of investment in the physical plant can avert a downward spiral that leads to vacancies, vandalism and financial problems that compound over time.

Several property management companies have discovered that establishing relationships with the local and state police departments can greatly enhance their efforts to provide a safe environment for their residents.

Police may be able to help organize a Neighborhood Watch program, hold community meetings and increase patrols.

Strategy 3. Create a physical environment that supports a sense of community within the development

One of the key features of successful housing developments is a sense of community among its residents.

The physical environment of the development, including building design and landscaping, can foster this community feeling.

Good design features can include recreation areas and playgrounds with benches or picnic tables, walking paths, gazebos and patios, freestanding community centers and specially designed and equipped common areas within buildings to create a sense of fellowship among residents.

Strategy 4. Provide resident services that enhance this sense of community

Bricks and mortar alone cannot create a sense of belonging among residents.

To complement physical improvements and amenities, housing developments throughout the country are offering an increasing array of resident services.

These services range from assistance with day-to-day living needs, such as food service and day care, to recreational activities and educational opportunities.

Strategy 5. Integrate the housing development with the surrounding community through different partnerships

Partnering with other organizations and agencies in the community is an excellent way for a housing development to integrate with its surrounding community as well as to provide additional services to residents.

Many housing developments have strong relationships with social services agencies, schools, churches and other houses of worship, government agencies, recreational groups (such as Scouts) and others whose involvement is often instructive and uplifting for residents.

Employing strategies like these not only reduces long-term operating costs, it creates a community of stakeholders who become allies in the effort to create a community all are proud to call their own.

Catherine A. Smith is president of Community-Based Communications, LLC, of Cheverly, Md. Her e-mail is She is editor of two National Affordable Housing Management Association newsletters.