How to Respond to Three Objections When Leasing Units at Tax Credit Sites
Getting top-quality renters through your tax credit site’s office door is tough. But dealing with their worries about living at a tax credit site is even tougher. Some applicants think twice about renting a unit at a tax credit site. They have preconceptions that the tax credit program adversely affects the quality of housing, the mix of residents, and how well the site is managed. As a result, you may lose out on good renters who end up renting at a conventional site instead.
With the right training, your leasing staff can overcome applicants’ misconceptions of tax credit sites and help you land good residents. Marketing experts Jennifer Nevitt Casey and Cathy Macaione have put together some strategies your leasing staff can use to overcome three common objections to renting at mixed-income tax credit sites.
Objection #1: Tax Credit Sites Are Substandard Government Housing Projects
Applicants who ask, “Is this a public housing project?” or say they would “prefer to live in a regular apartment community” confuse tax credit sites with government subsidized housing projects. They perceive tax credit sites as cut-rate or second best, says Casey.
How to respond. “To overcome the stigma attached to affordable housing,” says Casey, “you must inform applicants about the tax credit housing program.” Tell applicants that while income limits apply to some units at your property, the site was privately developed and is privately owned.
To bring the point home, tout apartment features and community services that differentiate your property from subsidized sites, suggests Macaione. Clubhouses, exercise rooms, and apartment features such as washer/dryer hookups and microwaves are amenities that aren’t usually found at subsidized sites but may be available at tax credit sites.
Objection #2: Tax Credit Sites Attract ‘Wrong’ Kind of Residents
Some applicants harbor prejudices or negative stereotypes about tax credit residents. Applicants who ask questions like “Will I be the only one with a job?” presume that eligible households are on welfare and out of work.
How to respond. Point out that while maximum income limits apply to some units at your community, minimum income requirements apply to everyone, suggests Macaione. Reassure applicants that you’re scrupulous about screening every rental applicant regardless of income level. You may want to spell out all of your site’s screening criteria such as requiring employment and income verifications, landlord references, credit checks, and background checks.
You should also make it clear that you apply the same screening criteria to every applicant. If you don’t treat all applicants equally you’re violating federal fair housing laws and inviting fair housing complaints and lawsuits. For example, if you arbitrarily set tougher standards for renting to a member of a racial minority or other protected group, you would be in violation of federal law.
Objection #3: Tax Credit Sites Aren’t Managed as Well as Conventional Communities
Some applicants presume that the level of service at tax credit sites is lower than that offered at conventional communities, says Casey. Applicants who ask, “How long will it take you to make apartment repairs?” or “Will the property be kept up?” think that management standards are lower for tax credit sites than for conventional communities.
How to respond. Reassure applicants that your management team is first-rate. If possible, point to other private communities in the area that are managed by the same company.
Many applicants base their opinion about management on how well the site looks. So it’s important to make a positive first impression. “Flowers and landscaping tell drive-by traffic and visitors that your site is top quality and run by professionals,” adds Casey. For the greatest impact, plant flowers around the site’s sign, along the main drive, and at the entrance to your rental office. Then make sure your grounds stay well looked after, says Macaione.
Cathy Macaione: President, Cathy Macaione Consulting Services, PO Box 220085, Hollywood, FL 33022;www.cathymac.net.
Jennifer Nevitt Casey: President, Bravo Strategic Marketing, Inc., PO Box 10628, Reno, NV 89510; www.bravostrategicmarketing.com.
Five Terms to Avoid with Applicants
Describing your community the wrong way can bolster the very misconceptions about tax credit sites that you’re trying to overcome. Here are five loaded terms our experts say you should avoid when talking to applicants.
1. Section 42 housing: While technically correct, this term sounds too much like Section 8 housing, a better-known federal government program that’s mainly targeted to very low-income households.
2. HUD: Though HUD may define household incomes for a given area, the use of the term often conjures up drab images of government-assisted housing projects.
3. IRS: This term makes everyone nervous.
4. Project: When describing your site to applicants, use the word “community” instead.
5. Low-income housing: Use the more positive term “affordable housing” instead.