A first of its kind advisory board, the Rhino Housing Innovation Council is made up of forward-thinking NMHC top-50 executives, industry leaders, and mayors of diverse American cities. The council held their first virtual gathering on June 26th to discuss the future of public-private solutions around housing affordability in the United States.

The first public roundtable discussion covered short and long-term solutions to housing affordability, the impact the COVID-19 crisis and general economic downturn could have on multi-family housing, attracting renters, and the future of cities.

Founding members of the RHIC include:

Key takeaways from the RHIC’s inaugural gathering.

Vital technology solutions during the pandemic

Steve T. Lamberti reflected on Highmark Residential’s experience with COVID-19 during our conversation:

“I think with the multifamily housing industry, it’s typical where people get up in the morning and go to work at six or seven a.m, and they’re gone all day before coming home in the evening. But with the pandemic it’s certainly changed in that people are now home for extended periods of time in their apartments using the facilities….and there were many things that we used to help our team adapt to these things. From the business side technology was first and foremost. Technology enabled us to continue to provide service to our clients and residents through communications. They were able to pay their rent on time through technology. We were able to provide services whenever and wherever possible.”

Kelianne Crapo believes that the pandemic brought back the personal touch Peak Living properties have with their residents. The property introduced COVID-specific touchpoints including check-in phone calls and delivering groceries to senior residents.

“It’s been huge in our collection efforts because we’ve worked on building those relationships and talking through payment arrangements with people.”

Crapo credits this personal connection, in combination with the ability to use technology to support residents, in making it easier to collect rent through difficult circumstances.

There was large praise from multiple members of the council towards the technological innovation that has made adapting to the crisis easier. Emerging tech has made it easier to host apartment showings online, find new ways to get leases signed, and pivot to more efficient rent collection methods.

Rhino co-founder and CEO Paraag Sarva asserted the importance of sharing and educating about these technological strategies:

“My role as CEO of Rhino over the last several years is really about education. Because we’re in a regulated space, both real estate and insurance, it’s really about educating each other about what we can do as policymakers and property owners/operators to advocate for the future of the industry. The reason we wanted to bring everyone together is to start focusing on the opportunities that make gains in finding common ground and delivering value to both sides.”

Common ground across the private and public sector was found in solutions such as rental assistance and products such as Rhino’s security deposit insurance.

Clark Ivory of Ivory Homes called Rhino’s offering a “great solution because so many people are trying to move in and just don’t have enough money in their pockets right now to make it happen.”

When discussing housing affordability, Ivory agreed with Sarva that “there’s not one silver bullet. There’s just a ton of little things that are going to add up and amount to a huge difference.”

The Future of Livable Cities

What is to become of cities in the pandemic era?

Mayor Nan Whaley believes that cities are here to stay, mentioning that the majority of renters still want to live in walkable urban centers with outdoor space and quality amenities. Whaley also emphasized the importance of growing a thriving economy that includes every sector of society in order to attain housing affordability.

Much of recent city planning across the country has been influenced by those between the ages of 25 and 45. Mayor Anna Tovar commenting that many mid-market cities have navigated their city planning around forming cities with multi-purpose lots for both commercial and residential purposes in order to attract certain groups of renters.

Mayor Levar Stoney spoke about how young people want affordable cities with low cost of living combined with effective public transportation, referencing Richmond’s public bus system as an example.

Based on trends she’s experiencing at the Peak Living properties, Crapo believes that markets such as those in Utah and Texas are actually still growing and thriving amid the crisis. The idea of Utah as a hotbed market was echoed by Clark Ivory who referenced Salt Lake City along with Denver, Colorado as growing inland cities.

Ivory believes that “we’re going to see a lot of people leaving some of the more crowded cities,” as a result of COVID-19 changing what people are looking for in housing.

However, long-term property owner Joseph Strasburg expressed concern about the lack of government response to the immediate housing crisis resulting from thousands of renters being unable to pay rent due to loss of work. This could unleash the possibility of detrimental impact on small property owners in their ability to pay their taxes and maintain their buildings.

He also expressed worries over investment money leaving New York City, possibly impacting overall property values. Strasburg commended Rhino’s “deposit insurance that can be utilized as part of negotiations between the owner and tenants,” which “provides some relief for those small property owners and residents alike.”

Collaboration among Public and Private Leaders

RHIC serves as an example of what the future of housing affordability must be: a partnership between both the public and private sectors to find answers to common problems around multifamily housing and city living. The members of the RHIC believe in creating the best solutions in their cities and on a national level.

RHIC member and Mayor of Richmond Levar Stoney emphasized his focus on private-public partnerships:

“We should always use our roles as mayors to be the grand convener, bringing the public sector and the private sector together. And you know, as we know, there’s finite dollars to go around. Sometimes we need to leverage our revenue to attract private dollars to invest. It could be infrastructure or just programs that will allow the entire city to benefit. But particularly for marginalized communities as well, I believe in those public-private partnerships.”

Similarly, Mayor Anna Tovar has utilized public-private sector relationships in order to activate land that had been sitting unused for ten years in her city of Tolleson, Arizona.

Mayor Tovar commented, “it will take everyone to come together and think of unique ways to have impact and incentivize collaborative work so we can truly benefit both sectors.”

Click here to view the recording of our Inaugural RHIC event, and stay tuned for what the Rhino Housing Innovation Council has in store for the future.

Larenz Brown

Larenz Brown is a copywriter at Rhino who wants to tell stories that empower people. He once engaged in a 365-day staredown with a security deposit and emerged victorious.