Building a Better Future for The Serrano
Dear AHC Residents, Supporters, and Partners,
Last month, we shared a detailed assessment of progress and lessons learned at Serrano to both the County Board and their Joint Subcommittee of the Housing and Tenant-Landlord Commissions.
- Watch the December 14 County Board meeting
- View slide show presentation at the County Board meeting
- View the presentation about the lessons learned at the December 16 Joint Subcommittee of the Housing and Tenant-Landlord Commission
I want to assure you AHC is deeply sorry that some Serrano residents experienced maintenance, pest-related challenges or disrespect by our staff or vendors. I also want to let you know we have made significant progress resolving deferred maintenance and resident concerns, in collaboration with our property management partner Drucker + Falk.
As difficult as this journey has been, we are grateful for the feedback, scrutiny, and candid assessments. As I reported to County leaders in December, “A silver lining has been close reflection on every aspect of AHC’s operations. We have learned many lessons and have taken feedback to heart – in who manages each apartment community, how we plan for capital improvements; how we engage and communicate with residents; the qualities of our next CEO; and how to further diversify and equip our board of directors, staff, and property management partners. Our residents are our North Star. We remain deeply committed to ensuring safe, welcoming, and affordable homes for Arlington neighbors.”
Along with stabilizing Serrano residents, addressing physical repairs, and improving onsite communications, we are making lasting changes at AHC to further raise residents’ voices.
Highlights of Progress at Serrano and AHC since May:
- Helped the 44 Serrano families who expressed interest in moving to successfully relocate or return to fully inspected and repaired apartments at the Serrano. (Note: after looking at many options, fully half of the residents decided to return to fully refurbished Serrano homes.)
- Helped 1/3 of Serrano residents access rental assistance (more than $700,000 so far)
- Paid $150,000+ in rent credits to all residents
- Established a voluntary claims process for residents without renter’s insurance
- Provided onsite vaccinations, financial literacy program, backpack, and food distribution
- Offered all residents onsite inspection by Arlington County – 100% of apartments passed
- Third-party air quality testing found no systemic air quality issues
- Greatly reduced pest activity; pest control professionals are onsite three days a week to respond immediately to resident concerns
- Continued to plan for full renovation in the next few years
- Added real-time text messaging with residents
- Restarted monthly resident meetings with professional Spanish translator
- Expanded bi-lingual staff onsite
- Participated in bi-weekly collaboration with tenant advocates
- Expanded onsite Resident Services office hours
- Our Board has expanded and now includes residents
- Hired a bilingual community engagement professional to further raise residents’ voices
- Several long-time senior staff have retired
- We are ceasing operations of our property management subsidiary in 2022 and transitioning to third-party management companies at AHC-owned apartment communities
October 22, 2021
Dear AHC Residents, Partners, and Supporters,
Over the past few months, we have made significant progress resolving deferred maintenance and resident concerns at The Serrano Apartments, which is under new management by our partner Drucker + Falk. We want to thank each of you for your partnership, honesty, and patience as we work with residents to make every home at The Serrano — and at every AHC apartment community — welcoming and comfortable.
SUPPORTING THE MOST AFFECTED HOUSEHOLDS
We want every resident in the 280 apartments at The Serrano to feel secure and comfortable in their home. Progress includes:
Relocation support. All Serrano residents who expressed interest in moving have successfully relocated to new permanent homes or returned to fully inspected and repaired apartments at the Serrano. Of the 44 families that expressed interest in exploring other homes, about half moved to other communities and half returned to refurbished Serrano apartments. One is still choosing her home. All 31 families who chose to relocate temporarily to a hotel suite are now in their preferred permanent housing: 20 at the Serrano and 11 in other homes.
Rental assistance. Serrano families have accessed more than $600,000 in rental assistance. AHC’s onsite Resident Services team has helped 57 Serrano families access rental assistance so far, and continues to help residents access additional rent relief.
Rent and utility credits. All Serrano households received a one-time credit to apply toward their July rent payment ($500 for studios/one bedrooms, $750 for two-bedrooms, and $1,000 for three-bedrooms). We also simplified utility payments, so residents are billed the same amount based on standard HUD utility allowances. The rates are based on apartment size and are updated by HUD annually. AHC made this change retroactive to July 2020, issuing a rent credit to any residents who paid more than this rate during the previous 12 months.
Reimbursement process. This summer we worked with Serrano residents and tenant advocates to create a voluntary claims process for residents to request reimbursement for any losses they incurred related to past maintenance challenges. Throughout September, tenant advocates, AHC staff and AHC Board members worked with past and present residents to prepare voluntary loss claims. We received claims from 19 households, one is going through the mediation process, three have been fully resolved, and the others are in active review by a third-party adjuster for resolution in the coming weeks.
We are continuing to make near term improvements in the physical plant at Serrano and have launched the pre-development team who will plan (in collaboration with residents) the options and phasing for comprehensive renovation in the next few years. Highlights include:
Inspections. 100% of the apartments inspected by Arlington County passed inspection. The onsite inspection was provided for every resident who expressed interest.
Pests. Mice activity was a key concern, and we are seeing significant progress. We continue to work hand-in-hand with our new pest vendor, residents and staff to inspect and treat the 99% of apartments who have granted access. We have moved from “heightened” to “average” pest activity. Our pest professionals are onsite three times a week to treat proactively and respond immediately to any new concerns.
Air Quality. Arlington County conducted extensive third-party air quality testing this summer and identified no systemic air quality issues, including no airborne asbestos or observed lead paint. We continue preventative maintenance, and unit-specific repairs to further improve air quality, including providing four furnished onsite hospitality suites to make it easier and more convenient for families to temporarily relocate onsite while repairs are being made.
Plumbing Repairs. We continue to work with residents to reduce the disruption from routine plumbing repairs. The building is designed with groups of 5-10 apartments that are affected by a plumbing repair in any one of the apartments. Though water shut offs are typically brief and usually planned, we know they are disruptive to impacted residents and are exploring retrofits to reduce the number of homes impacted each time the water is shut off.
Elevator Upgrades. We have completed routine updates to elevator interiors and updated annual inspections of all four elevators. When elevator work is scheduled, residents are informed by text and paper notice and work is phased to ensure that each building has at least one elevator operating at all times.
IMPROVING COMMUNICATION, TRUST AND PARTNERSHIP
We know this is the key to making sure residents really feel at home and know their voices are heard. We’ve made some good progress, but have more to do. Residents continue to share both suggestions and positive feedback – particularly about our new texting program.
Communication. We have developed several new tools to improve how we stay in touch and listen to residents. Over 85% of Serrano households now receive regular text messages in Spanish and English. To ensure we are listening effectively and hearing residents’ concerns, we hold monthly resident meetings (with English-Spanish translation), focus groups in English and Spanish, and third-party surveys to collect resident feedback. In addition, our Interim CEO has worked onsite at the Serrano several days a week to hear directly from residents.
Resident engagement. Our two onsite Resident Services staff members continue to work with residents to access rental relief funds and onsite programs, including onsite vaccination clinics, backpack distributions, and fresh meal programs. A community fair held in mid-October offered pet checkups and an array of other opportunities in residents’ front yard. Link to short video.
Community partnerships. We are coordinating closely with tenant advocates (VOICE, BU-GATA and NAACP) and Arlington County staff, meeting regularly to identify opportunities for better coordination and communication to best support residents of AHC apartment communities.
STRENGTHENING AHC LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE
Building on lessons from the Serrano, AHC is making structural changes within our organization, to improve our communication and amplify residents’ voices. Our goal is to make sure every resident in every AHC apartment community feels comfortable and welcome in their home.
Amplifying resident voices. This week our Board of Directors added six new members, including two residents of AHC apartment communities. A joint CEO/Board Community Engagement Initiative is lifting resident voices and redoubling our commitment to building strong and diverse communities. Next month we will welcome a dedicated staff member to coordinate community engagement across AHC, ensuring resident and community voice in our decision-making — across resident services programming, communications, real estate development and property management.
Supporting diversity and inclusion. Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts include intentional conversation and training, from the Board room to the frontline. We are expanding intercultural communication strategies and trauma-informed practices training, to complement existing customer service and conscious bias training.
Hiring a permanent CEO. The AHC Board is partnering with Marcum Search to conduct a national search for our next CEO, with the goal of identifying the next leader in the second quarter of 2022. If you have any questions or referrals to share, please contact Peggy Sand, Marcum Search and Sustainability Consultant at Peggy.Sand@Marcumllp.com
We want to thank our residents, Arlington County, and advocates who have been working with us to make sure that AHC continues to provide the level of service and care that our residents expect and deserve.
David Barsky, AHC Inc. Board Chair
Susan Cunningham, AHC Inc. Interim CEO
August 13, 2021
AHC Inc. recognizes that at times during the last few years, living conditions at the Serrano did not meet our high standards. We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank our residents and the community for your patience and partnership as we make things right.
Although Virginia law states that renters are generally responsible for any damage sustained to items inside their homes, we want to do more to help Serrano residents who may have experienced losses.
On August 13, AHC distributed letters to all Serrano residents outlining the process we’ve put in place to reimburse residents if they sustained damage to personal belongings such as furniture or clothing due to pests or maintenance failures at the Serrano or if Serrano management failed to fix a defective condition in their home within a reasonable time after they brought it to management’s attention.
Letters to Residents
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Reimbursement Process
June 24, 2021
Dear AHC Residents, Partners and Supporters,
We take the safety and well-being of our residents extremely seriously and we are working to build a better future for residents of The Serrano apartment building, which is owned by AHC Inc. and currently managed by one of our partners Drucker & Falk (D+F). In response to reports from some residents about unacceptable conditions in several units, AHC and D+F are working closely with the Arlington County Housing Commission, county officials, and community organizations, to ensure that residents’ concerns are not only heard but addressed as soon as possible.
We have made significant steps in addressing the challenges at The Serrano, but there is still much that needs to be done. The following is an update about the progress AHC and D+F have already made, as well as upcoming changes and improvements to the building’s infrastructure that are currently being planned at The Serrano.
ADDRESSING IMMEDIATE REPAIRS AT SERRANO
AHC is committed to investing in The Serrano and its future. To date, we have invested $500,000 in 2021 for immediate repairs at the community. AHC has also allocated up to $2 million of its cash reserves to conduct necessary repairs at The Serrano over the next 6 to 12 months.
- D+F has hired two pest management companies to comprehensively address the challenges. The primary firm, Environmental Pest, has completed its total seal and treatment of both buildings (12 apartments were not treated due to no access).
- A second firm, Orkin, has done a complete walkthrough of the community and confirmed that Environmental Pest’s approach is effectively addressing the property’s needs.
- Along with pest treatment, D+F has addressed pest issues by repairing and thoroughly cleaning trash chutes throughout the buildings.
- As of May 14, the property’s 600+ convectors were cleaned to industry standards and inspected for proper function (except for 10 apartments due to no access).
- AHC and D+F also initiated a second air quality testing on June 16, which has been shared with the County and coordinated with the County’s environmental testing set.
- D+F and AHC completed due diligence to inspect convectors to verify proper operation and D+F will replace units that are no longer operational.
- By May 14, 2021, D+F completed its full inspection of the kitchen and bath exhaust systems. To date, D+F has replaced two of the exhaust system fan motors located on the roofs and repaired a third.
- To further help to improve airflow throughout the buildings, AHC is hiring a firm to test and balance the ventilation system.
- AHC’s Construction Management team had a structural engineer review/inspect the balconies.
- Having received the structural engineer’s report, we are now soliciting pricing proposals for any recommended work.
- D+F has also repaired all identified broken glass panels.
Other recently completed maintenance
- AHC and D+F installed new laundry equipment and flooring in laundry rooms.
- Completed lighting survey and tree trimming to brighten property exterior. Additional lights are ordered and will be installed this summer.
- Installed package delivery lockers to ensure security of delivered packages.
- Repaired pool pump.
NEXT STEPS: NEAR-TERM PLAN OF ACTION
120-day repair plan
- Based on the completed inspections, D+F is developing a 120-day plan to address individual apartment needs and the overall living environment throughout the property.
Keeping residents informed
- D+F completed full inspections of almost all The Serrano apartments (except 20 they were not given permission to enter). By July 15, 2021, each resident will have received a letter with the specific work that will need to be done in their apartment. Residents will be notified at least 48 hours before repairs are scheduled in their apartment.
Accommodating residents during repairs
- To minimize the inconvenience while repairs are underway, AHC will make 2 or 3 apartments at The Serrano available as temporary living arrangements. In addition, the community room will also be available for several families to spend the day.
Helping families move, if desired
- For residents who choose to move out of The Serrano permanently, AHC and Arlington County are working together to cover the majority of moving costs. Additionally, AHC is waving all fees for ending their lease.
- The Serrano residents who want to learn more about this option can call Jeray Wilson of Housing Opportunities Unlimited at 202.977.8099.
Expediting returns to The Serrano
- AHC and D+F are expediting repairs for households who were temporarily relocated to hotels by Arlington County.
- For any questions regarding this process, The Serrano residents can reach out to Nakia Brown at 703.253.7811 or nbrown(AT)druckerandfalk.com.
Recognizing residents’ inconvenience
- To acknowledge the residents’ challenges, we are crediting a payment to each household toward their July rent ($500 for studios/one-bedrooms, $750 for two-bedrooms, and $1,000 for three-bedrooms).
- AHC is also providing $200 gift cards to all families who had to move to hotels temporarily so repairs could be completed in their apartments. In addition, families living elsewhere temporarily will not be billed for utilities while they were living off-site.
AHC’S LONG-TERM COMMITMENTS TO ARLINGTON AHC RESIDENTS
Simplifying utility payments
- AHC is simplifying the utility system in response to residents’ concerns. Starting August 1, 2021, residents will be billed the same amount each month based on federal guidelines, according to the apartment size. AHC will make this system retroactive to July 1, 2020, which may result in rebates to some families.
- The new utility billing system will be explained in more detail at the next resident meeting on Thursday, July 15, 2021.
Amplifying resident voices
- AHC will invite two residents, one from Arlington and another from across our portfolio, to join AHC’s 10-member Board of Directors at AHC’s Annual Meeting in October. If you are interested in being considered, please submit your name to endo(AT)ahcinc.org.
- We are also committed to improving customer service and re-building trust. As such, D+F will continue holding monthly meetings with The Serrano residents to discuss any questions and concerns.
- Customer service is our number one priority. If you are ever less than satisfied with the service you receive at The Serrano or any other AHC apartment community, we hope you will take the time to call AHC’s customer service hotline at 703.271.8425 to register a formal complaint. Our staff will be sure to follow up.
Planning for full-scale renovation
- In addition to addressing residents’ immediate concerns, AHC plans to fully renovate The Serrano within the next three years. We will keep everyone updated as we determine exact timing and details.
We value your support and appreciate your patience as we make progress improving the overall living conditions at The Serrano. AHC Inc. is fully committed to making sure our residents have safe, healthy and quality homes. Working together, we know we can and will make The Serrano a wonderful place to live!
AHC Inc. Board of Directors
May 20, 2021
Dear AHC Supporters, Partners and Residents,
We take the safety and well-being of our residents extremely seriously and we are working to build a better future for residents of The Serrano apartment building, which is owned by AHC Inc. and currently managed by one of our great partners Drucker & Falk. In response to reports from some residents about unacceptable conditions in several units, AHC Inc. and Drucker & Falk are working closely with the Arlington County Housing Commission, County officials, and community organizations, to ensure that residents’ concerns are not only heard but addressed as soon as possible.
So, what is AHC doing?
To move forward, we are redoubling our efforts and taking immediate actions to address residents’ top concerns:
- AHC Inc. has allocated $1 million to conduct necessary repairs at The Serrano in 2021, in addition to the $3 million we already invested in the property over the past three years. We are planning to invest another $2+ million in near-term capital repairs to improve residents’ living experience at Serrano. To pay for this work, AHC will invest its own funds.
- Over the past few days, Drucker & Falk has completed more than half of its 100% inspection of the property (except for the apartments where residents have not provided access) to document and remediate all identified issues. Drucker & Falk is using special software to photograph and document conditions to create individualized action plans for each home and to hold ourselves accountable for the progress.
- AHC is working closely with Arlington County to respond to any residents’ interest in alternative living options. AHC is waiving fees and returning resident’s deposits. The County will help move belongings free of charge. More information.
- We have hired two pest control companies to treat the entire property. One company is searching and sealing for mice while the other is inspecting and re-checking the work.
- To address issues with heating and cooling convectors, AHC Inc. has expedited the spring maintenance schedule. All 639 convectors at The Serrano will be opened and vacuumed with a triple HEPA-filtered vacuum by the end of the month. All grille panels, evaporator pans, screens, and AC coils will be thoroughly cleaned.
- To continue building better communications and trust with our residents, Serrano’s new bilingual Resident Services office will be holding monthly bilingual resident meetings. Additionally, AHC Inc. will be administering anonymous surveys to provide residents an opportunity to confidentially convey their concerns, comments, and suggestions. Residents will receive a $25 gift card if they fill out the survey. We will repeat the survey in six months to track progress.
As pandemic restrictions are lifted, we look forward to making these repairs more quickly and will keep you up to date on our progress.
AHC Inc. is 100 percent committed to making sure our residents have safe, healthy and quality homes. We are proud of the 7,800 much-needed affordable homes AHC has created throughout the region, and we will continue to work hard to help our residents build brighter future.
AHC Inc. Board of Directors