How to Develop a Site Management Plan
Every tax credit site has a host of criteria for leasing, compliance, and dealing with households. Without a formal plan that spells out how to apply the appropriate policies and procedures in a given situation, the staff often is left to their own devices. This can lead to uninformed and inconsistent decisions, and potential mistakes that can leave the site's owner exposed to lawsuits and loss of tax credits.
Last month, we looked at the benefits of having a development binder that contains all of the governing documents for the site (“Development Map: Create a Compliance Blueprint of Your Site,” Insider, October 2010, p. 4). While ensuring that the site's compliance information is well organized and accessible to staff is critical, consider creating a complementary resource that outlines your site's policies and procedures.
The site management plan is a valuable tool that provides exact details on how site staff are expected to perform marketing, leasing, applicant qualification tasks, as well as manage ongoing resident relations and meet the site's goals, says property management and strategic planning expert Laura Junglas, president of The Org Doc, based in Cleveland.
Despite the obvious benefits of having clear, written guidelines that document a site's policies and procedures, many sites put off developing or updating their site management plan. Instead, their staff must muddle through a hodgepodge of updates, letters, and memos from the IRS, HUD, and state agencies—which are not the ideal circumstances for making informed decisions.
What to Include in Your Plan
The first step in developing a site management plan is to think about what to include. It can be a daunting task when you consider all of the tasks and responsibilities that go into the daily management of a tax credit site. How do you know what information—and how much of it—the plan should contain?
Some of the key categories to consider are marketing, leasing, eligibility, rent collection, unit turnover, lease terminations and evictions, maintenance, and financial management, says Junglas. She offers the following basic template of topics to include in a site management plan. The list can help you to start thinking about your site's policies, practices, and procedures.
— Waiting list
— Phone contacts
— Application review
— Applicant references
— Credit and other background reports
— Move-in procedures
— Security deposits
— Tenant selection criteria
— Tenant selection “categories of disapproval”
Rent collection policy and procedures
— Late payment policy and agreements
— Other fees and charges
Termination of leases and evictions
Vacancy of units
— Tenant move-out notice and requirements
— Security deposit refund
Resident retention plan (that is, how will you keep residents satisfied?)
Preventive maintenance and repair program
Financial management system
Personnel policies and staffing plan
Simplify Wherever Possible
“The site management plan should be written in a clear, easy-to-read style,” Junglas says. “Use a conversational writing voice, and avoid complicated words.” Remember, you want your staff to read it and understand it.
You can also dramatically reduce the amount of time spent developing the management plan by borrowing from other sites’ management plans.
“It can be an overwhelming task,” she says. “I encourage people to borrow from others’ plans. Choose the pieces that work for you and adapt it to your particular site, rather than creating it from scratch.” Be sure to attribute the content appropriately, she adds, and keep in mind that local ordinances will vary depending on where your site is located.
Get It into Your Staff's Hands
Developing the initial site management plan is likely to require a sizeable chunk of time to put together, but once it is done, you will find that it is a valuable tool. “When the first problem comes up, and you can reference your written plan, you'll realize that it was time well spent,” Junglas says.
Be sure to provide a copy of the management plan to all site employees so that they can have it at hand. It might be useful to reference the document regularly so that employees get in the habit of thinking about it and using it.
In the beginning, you may need to revise the plan from time to time to include any situations that occur repeatedly but which are not covered in the plan. Otherwise, Junglas says that reviewing the plan every couple of years should be sufficient.
PRACTICAL POINTER: Whether you draft your site management plan yourself or collaborate with a group of staff members, it is advisable to submit a preliminary version to your site compliance team or attorney for review and fine-tuning before distributing it to your staff. This way, you can ensure that the policies you have outlined comply with all state and federal regulations.
Laura Junglas: President, The Org Doc; NPOrgDoc@earthlink.net; (216) 932-3147
Search Our Web Site by Key Words: management basics; site management plan; resident handbook
Resident Handbook Supplements Site Management Plan
A resident handbook can be an effective document for dealing with households, says property management and strategic planning expert Laura Junglas, president of The Org Doc. Just as the site management plan clarifies the site staff's responsibilities and guides their decision-making, the resident handbook outlines the house rules for residents and spells out their responsibilities as tenants.
“The resident handbook should outline the rules and regulations of the tenancy, as well as the site manager's and owner's responsibilities,” she says.
To create a resident handbook, start by focusing on the big picture—what do you want the resident to do? And then “boil it down to specific actions so that residents know what happens when they break a window or flush a shoe down the toilet, or how to communicate with the site manager—all those sorts of basic things,” she says.
Here again, a simple, conversational writing style is best. Keep in mind that your residents’ education levels will vary, so try to write the policies plainly and so that they will be interpreted the way you want them to be.
Junglas recommends including the following information for residents:
Overview of staff roles and responsibilities (that is, whom to contact for what)
How to report service requests
How to submit emergency service requests (include examples of maintenance emergencies)
How to pay rent (such as due date and how/where to pay it)
Explanation of security deposits (that is, how they're determined, when they will be returned and how)
Description of other fees and charges (such as returned check fee, key deposit, etc.)
Unit inspections (that is, when inspections are conducted and how much prior notice is given)
Housekeeping policies (such as unit upkeep and maintaining appliances)
Good neighbor policies (such as noise levels, smoking policy, general conduct, etc.)
Building facilities (policies for the laundry area, common areas, parking)
How to dispose of trash and refuse
Extermination policy and schedule
Building safety rules
Definition of lease violations
Make sure that residents understand that the resident handbook is part of the lease. “Review it with them and have them sign off on it,” she says.