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Protecting Tenants and Planning for the Future of Multifamily Housing
Over the past several weeks I’ve had a lot of conversations with housing clients and vendors about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the multifamily housing industry. While no one can predict the future, it feels inevitable that the impact will be significant. Already we’re seeing signs of this with quarantined tenants who can’t pay rent, socialize with each other, or be evicted. During my conversations two questions seem to come up over and over: how can we assure buildings are being adequately cleaned and how can building systems be improved to help protect tenants?
How to ensure your building is adequately cleaned.
In doing my research, I believe there is a two-pronged approach when ensuring a building is adequately cleaned. First, make sure your cleaning contractors are consistently using accepted protocols outlined by the CDC and industry guidance (make sure to use an EPA-registered antimicrobial/viricidal solution from the N List for disinfection of COVID-19 virus). This is not the same as routine cleaning, which is why engaging a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or other appropriate safety or infection control professional is helpful. They can help establish necessary protocols and train your existing team. They can also help develop recommendations for appropriate safety gear and personal protective equipment (PPE). Second, test to verify that surfaces have been adequately cleaned. Proxy measurements can be used to determine if surfaces have been cleaned according to hospital and industrial food production cleanliness standards.
How can we improve building systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and provide future protections?
Your ventilation system is ground zero when it comes to creating a healthy indoor environment. Ducts should be cleaned, sealed, or replaced as needed, and filters upgraded. In general, the name of the game in ventilation is air changes per hour (air change rate is the measure of the air added to or removed from a space). The more air changes you have, the cleaner the air will be. Where you want the fresh air to come into the building (or apartment) is where you put the “state of the art” filters. Then using exhaust fans, you replace the indoor air as often as financially practical. Some spaces may require 24/7 air exchangers.
Social distancing forces us to think about the areas we have been allocating to programmed spaces. Restaurants and dining areas may have fewer tables, and areas staff would typically interact with tenants such as the leasing office, package delivery, and social areas, will need to be rethought. Areas like dog parks, gyms, and social lounges may need to be redesigned to maintain a comfortable bubble of personal space.
Operations of the complex need to function under new guidelines and protocols in the short term, some of which will last indefinitely. These include the provision of hand-washing stations, and regular cleaning of high traffic areas and frequently touched building components, such as handrails, door handles, light switches, and elevator buttons. Every visitor to the apartment complex and returning tenant is potentially a virus delivery threat, so ongoing vigilance will be required in maintaining prevention protocols.
Stay informed, reach out to each tenant often, as things are changing very rapidly, new standards and regulations get published almost daily. There are numerous webinars and publications being pushed out by the media and professional associations such as the Urban Land Institute (ULI), American Institute of Architects (AIA), and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), National Multifamily Housing Council (NMFHC), as well as the CDC, of course.
The design of new multifamily housing prototypes isn’t top-of-mind now, but I think there is an argument to make that it should be. We know there will be a renewed demand for apartments when the stay at home orders are lifted, and now is a good time to focus on things that can be done remotely. As a firm, we’re currently doing our part by working from home yet staying connected virtually and continuing to move our client’s projects forward. We know this health pandemic will change the way we work and live, let’s be ready to change with it.