Multifamily N Illinois

Apartment dwellers still crave sustainability

Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago. Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago.
Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago. Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago.
Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago. Milieu on the Park, 205 S. Peoria Avenue, Chicago.

Sustainability was supposed to be a passing fad. But unlike conversation pits, wood paneling and avocado green appliances, renters have yet to grow tired of this particular trend.

For one thing, it remains a key method to attract and retain tenants, especially among young professionals who report sustainability as an important factor in where they choose to live. As this demographic continues to stave off homeownership, it’s in the best interests of apartment property owners and operators to incorporate environmentally conscious best practices into their management.

“I think our residents understand that there isn’t an unlimited supply of resources. As property managers and developers, we are aware of and in tune to those needs and concerns of the residents,” said Dave Deichl, vice president, north-central region, Village Green. “I think you’re seeing a shift in how buildings are being built and managed, all tailored to more sustainable living and a better wellness environment for the residents.”

Last year, Illinois led the nation in the ratio of LEED-certified square feet per person, according to the USGBC. So it’s clear that in Illinois and Chicago, sustainability has become the standard for how we build and manage our properties.

So what steps can a property manager take to incorporate green living into a multifamily property? Things like community recycling centers are a low-cost, easy way to really make an impact. Rooftop community gardens bring residents together while providing stormwater retention and insulation properties to the building itself.

Village Green provides move-in gifts to new residents, all contained in a tote made from recycled material, ideal for reuse at the grocery store or for general use. Other options are installing a saltwater pool instead of freshwater to reduce the need for chemicals. And of course, solar panels, which fall in price every year; some Village Green communities have car ports with solar panels installed on top to help reduce the electric footprint of the property.

“Other areas where we can have a big impact in a way that is attainable for us are the common areas. It’s such a big part of the overall utility expense and usage,” Deichl said. “Putting sustainable measures in to monitor and to reduce the energy usage in our common areas has been effective for us. I think residents understand that and how that translates into sustainable living and into their overall pocketbook.”

One property that Village Green is managing is Milieu on the Park, a 20-story, 275-unit luxury high-rise apartment going up near Greektown. Developed by White Oak Realty Partners and Crayton Advisors, Milieu will include a number of environmentally conscious features; each unit will have two bins, one for trash and the other for recycling and the building includes a number of energy efficiency technologies such as LED lights in the common areas.

Budgets are always going to be a factor in real estate and sustainability is no different. Transitioning to and maintaining an eco-friendly property can be expensive, so Village Green, which is also a third-party property manager, constantly works with other property management teams and management companies to determine the appropriate budget and timelines when implementing these programs.

The best approach to providing eco-friendly options in a building or across a portfolio is to find those that provide a return to both the owner and the tenants. And not just finding ways to reduce the overall costs, but communicating those to the residents.

“One of the biggest hurdles is that eco-conscious and sustainability can be interpreted differently by different people and expectations of sustainable services can vary,” said Deichl. “So we have to be careful where we are driving prospects’ and residents’ lifestyles in a way that doesn’t feel forced. The best way for us to handle that is to offer the eco-friendly options and be able to accommodate a renter’s additional needs.”

Another challenge, and one that also comes down to communicating with residents, is the multiple points of potential failure that exist, especially in a multifamily property. A 300-unit apartment building has 300 possible cases of a resident cranking the heat in the winter while also having the windows open. Without expressing the ideas behind sustainability to the tenants and how the building hopes to achieve those goals, the users can severely impact a property’s performance.

“There’s definitely a lot of communication as we go through our resident quarters, whether it is constant reminders about recycling efforts or water conservation,” Deichl said. “But we’re also constantly surveying our residents from work orders to make sure everything is good in their apartment.”

“Keeping an active presence in our apartment communities with digital tools is very useful for us to reach our renters,” continued Deichl. “Our preference, however, is always face-to-face interactions and continuing to help them remember that they do have a responsibility as well to help reduce overall utility usage and become a more sustainable community.”

While location and amenities will always be the one-two punch to attract and retain renters, environmental consciousness can have an impact as well. With so many approaches that appeal to tenants while simultaneously reducing ownership’s bottom line, sustainability is a true win-win for property managers.