Interview – The Urban Village Concept Redefines the Apartment Community

Jan 2, 2012 | Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Multifamily

It only takes two things to turn a group of people into a strong community; a shared interested and a way to communicate. Peter Slaugh, the founder of of Su Casa Properties, harnesses this through his Urban Village concept which rethinks how tenants interact within an apartment community. Peter was nice enough to tell me a bit more about the Urban Village concept.

Enter Peter:

How would you describe Su Casa Properties in one sentence?

Su Casa Properties is a multifamily investment platform for High Networth Individuals who look to maximize investment returns with an eye towards social impact investing through building community and initiating sustainable practices at the property level.

Where did the name “Su Casa Properties” come from? What does it represent?

The name comes from the familiar Spanish phrase of Mi Casa es Su Casa” translating as “my home is your home”, and it represents  our deep seeded belief in building “community” and providing a true sense of “home” for our residents vs. just disconnected “housing”.

Can you walk me through the nexus of the Urban Village concept and how it’s evolved? 

A few years ago as the job market really started to evaporate – we were looking for ways to help our residents survive the economic downturn.  As I walked my properties, it was apparent residents were struggling to make ends meet and fighting to stay employed.  Our success is directly tied our residents’ success, and we began a process  of looking for ways we could support our residents.  I wasn’t sure if we should be looking to implement programs like daycare to assist working parents, community gardens, job search support – or what. The process started simply by caring, but the real strength actually sources from the residents themselves – our role has been more of a facilitator and allowing for “community” to develop organically rather than force-feed a rigid, “top-down” agenda.  The residents deserve all the credit – with a little initial push at the outset, what they’ve done is incredible – we’re seeing numerous events, clubs, classes, networking, recycling, community gardens – the list goes on.  Each property has its own unique personality and characteristics – so, Urban Village is more of a philosophy with guiding principles rather than a prescribed set of rules.  As the program unfolds at each property, we look to help establish a Residents Council so that the resident base can act as a self-governing body that ultimately survives changes in tenants, ownership or management.  This is about neighbors being “neighborly”, and leveraging each other for continued growth and support on many levels.  We want our residents to thrive not just survive.  We are inherently stronger together than we are individually, and this program is really geared to foster a sense of connection.

Here’s a great video about the Urban Village concept:

Has the Urban Village concept had an effect on the bottom line? Has it impacted valuations?

The original intent of the Urban Village program was purely based on helping connect neighbors, develop “community” and enable residents to leverage each other’s skills, talents and resources. We weren’t initially focused on the bottom line – we just wanted to help improve the overall resident experience at our properties.  What happened next really caught us off guard – resident referrals were up, occupancy was up, and marketing and turnover costs were dropping. Without putting any upward pressure on rents – which the market wouldn’t have tolerated anyway – our bottom line was improving and our occupancy was outpacing our competitors in the submarket. I haven’t looked to market any of the properties as of yet, but fundamental to property valuations – the improved bottom line will certainly support higher asset value.

How do investors view the Urban Village concept?

Investors love it. What’s not to love? Their investment dollars are earning solid returns, and they get to feel good about the positive influence or “social impact” their investment is making on the lives of our residents.

Where do you see the Urban Village concept going in the future?

My hope is to educate the investor community and apartment industry that a socially responsible investment platform actually supports stronger returns, and that generating profits and “doing the right thing” for residents and the planet are NOT mutually exclusive.  Su Casa Properties embraces a “Triple Bottom Line” approach where we measure success not just in dollars, but also in socially responsible initiatives as well as sustainable practices at the property level: People, Planet, Profit.  We’re busy proving out this model in an effort to attract more like-minded investors who share the same investment philosophy and approach to business.

If you won the Mega Millions jackpot and had $100M to spend on real estate, what would you buy?

Easy – apartment communities all over the US.

What do you think of the Urban Village concept?

You can view all investor spotlights here.