Photo: Bella Spring Townhomes Apartments

Teachers and principals at area elementary and middle schools noticed a positive trend in public education long after a partnership between the Spring Branch Management District and the Houston Apartment Association began.

Fewer students were transferring between schools, which improves students’ learning and achievement. The students’ families were simply moving less, because of better safety in the dozens of apartment complexes throughout the district.

In the partnership, the District pays for apartment complex management and owners to use Rental Credit Reporting Service, a program of the Houston Apartment Association (HAA), as they consider the applications of potential tenants.

The six-part RCR assessment of each potential resident includes access to a National Landlord-Tenant database, a Texas criminal data base, a sex-offender search, a terrorism check through the FBI and other federal agencies, an eviction history, and a record of each potential tenant’s moves in and out of apartments.

The training for the RCR program also allows apartment managers to learn about other ways to improve community safety, ranging from improved lighting and landscaping to programs offered by the Houston Police Department.

“It is a direct, tangible benefit provided by the district that benefits school children, their families and the small businesses in the district,” said Kristin Gonzales, business and community liaison for the Spring Branch Management District.

That stability helps children in school, where they can rely on the friends they have made and the teachers they know. But it also provides for “a more stable workforce” because people try to live as close to their jobs as they can, Gonzales added.

And, that benefits the mom-and-pop businesses throughout the Spring Branch area, who can count on a steady stream of repeat customers.

“Small businesses really do rely on their regulars,” Gonzales said. A native of the Spring Branch neighborhood, Gonzales has a favorite Chinese food restaurant that she has frequented for years.

“I do have a feeling of loyalty to the mom and pop businesses in Spring Branch,” Gonzales said.

Photo: Bella Spring Townhomes Apartments

Stephanie Bryson owns the 165-unit Bella Spring Townhomes apartments in the Spring Branch District, as well as about 375 other apartment units in the Houston area through Stellar Equity Management.

As a former third-grade teacher, Bryson said she believes the program has had a positive impact on public education.

“An indirect benefit is that for schools, you have much more stability,” Bryson said. “There is simply not that much skipping around” between apartment communities.

“That makes a huge difference,” Bryson added.

The RCR program allows apartment managers to know when potential tenants are facing eviction. That benefits both communities, she explained, because an apartment manager can avoid a high-risk tenant and let their current manager know that tenant is planning to move.

“It really helps both sides,” Bryson said.

Because continuity builds better communities, Bryson said apartment managers want to keep residents as long as possible.

“Our mantra is improving lives through community,” Bryson said.

The Management District has made “so many positive changes to improve the whole area,” Bryson added. “It Is truly a positive partnership.”

Tina DeFiore, who runs the RCR program for the HAA, said the positive effect  on school children was first noticed about seven years ago.

Families who stayed longer in the same apartments saw an immediate benefit to students in elementary and middle schools.

“In some cases, just transferring schools can cause a student to fall behind by as much as a year,” DeFiore said.

And with less turnover in rental units, those communities directly save on such “make-ready” costs of cleaning, carpet cleaning or replacement and painting.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many apartment residents are facing financial hardships.  As many tenants struggle to keep up with rent payments, apartment managers have to find ways to keep “front-line” employees like maintenance staff safe at work. And, apartment owners still have substantial mortgages to pay on the multi-million dollar properties throughout the Houston area.

Despite a nationwide “moratorium” on evictions that has been extended, tenants eventually will have to pay their rent, and any late fees.

HAA has already has compiled a long list of organizations that might be able to offer financial assistance to families facing economic hardships. A complete list of those organizations can be found at haaonline.org/financialhelp.

 

— by Anne Marie Kilday