Despite the challenges caused by the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), Calgary-based Avenue Living Communities has been strategic in its navigation of these turbulent times. The residential rental company has suites with in 19 markets across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“We took a very proactive approach to ensure that first and foremost, we looked after our employees who are essential workers, and that we looked after our residents who are also essential workers. We recently raised everybody’s wages on the front-line by $2 an hour. For us, it’s business as unusual – if that makes sense. It truly is. We’re running our business even with the backdrop of uncertainty,” said Jason Jogia, Chief Investment Officer of Avenue Living Group of Companies (Avenue Living).
“All of the prep work that we did was very well received by our employees, residents and other stakeholders. We doubled up on cleaning. We ensured that everybody was provided with the proper PPE (personal protective equipment). We did not want to operate during COVID-19 and break any service standards,” added Jogia.
As an example, Jogia said the company’s call centre is now all working from home and is still able to maintain a 98 per cent call answer rate and a wait time of less than a minute and a half.
“It’s that ability to handle call volumes in a very effective and meaningful manner to service our residents,” he said, adding that the company created a Prairie Relief Team that facilitates the process of rent collection and working with residents to ensure they pay what they can.
Jogia said maintenance service has not been disrupted and that the company is actually more efficient today, during COVID-19, at fulfilling work orders (in under 48 hours), than it has ever been.
He said Avenue Living houses essential workers and that the company’s rents are some of the most affordable in the country. Beyond residential, Avenue Living focuses on the operation and execution of strategies in stabilized Prairie-based assets, including agricultural land, essential commercial spaces, as well as self-storage properties. Currently, the company is trending only three per cent behind in rent collections compared to where it would be in any given month without COVID-19, per Jogia.
“With regards to collections, we are trending within three per cent where we should be. Normally, nine days into a month, we would have collected about 85 to 87 per cent of our owed residential rent. We’ve already collected just over 83 per cent and it’s April 9th,” explained Jogia, adding that the company suspended rent increases well before it was mandated by Governments.
The company’s collection details are broken out below, by asset class:
“We just continue to run our business. Our people have taken the current climate very seriously. We’ve really banded together to push ourselves to the next level. So, we’re pretty excited about what the future holds,” added Jogia.
Avenue Living continues to see strong leasing activity in light of the current quarantined conditions. The company is having a record-breaking number of renewals at the moment and continues to experience positive absorption month-over-month. These statistics seem to validate the essential thesis that people will always need a place to live.
The company is building on strategic actions taken last year. In 2019, Avenue Living acquired 1,295 residential units. It also deployed over $88 million in strategic capital upgrades, including suites, common areas and exteriors, as well as renovated 4,416 suites during 2019. In addition, the company purchased 13,000 acres in farmland, and 19,379 square feet of commercial space during the fiscal year of 2019.
“We’re in command and control of our business, from every KPI (key performance indicator) and every statistic,” said Jogia. “We are truly being proactive. We are being very deliberate in our communications with our stakeholders and we really do believe that our employees at Avenue Living Communities are essential workers supporting essential workers,” said Jogia.