Keep Records to Show You Followed Marketing Plan
When it comes to marketing your site, HUD has one key expectation: that you will do what you said you were going to do when you completed your Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan (AFHMP), Form HUD-935.2A. HUD calls the AFHMP “the owner's blueprint for marketing activity.”
A new version of the AFHMP became effective on May 1 of this year, with some changes over the prior version. But HUD's stance on your need to adhere to your plan has not changed. “The best marketing guideline I can think of is to be familiar with the requirements of your plan,” says Diana Kelly, vice president of Maloney Properties, which manages sites throughout New England. “And if it has been a while since you've looked at it, pull it off the shelf.”
The AFHMP applies to all HUD-assisted sites of five or more units. The plan must describe an affirmative action program to attract residents to the housing initially, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. In addition, the plan requires you to specify and then target demographic groups who are least likely to know about or apply for housing at your site. The plan also should include information on the applicants, your nondiscriminatory hiring policy, your training program on nondiscrimination for rental staff, and your display of the HUD Equal Housing Opportunity logo and slogan.
The more complete you make the plan, the more helpful it can be for you, Kelly points out. Worksheets that are part of the plan help you to focus on demographic groups you might target for outreach and marketing and to define your proposed marketing activities. “Your plan can help you figure out where to run ads, when to run ads, when you can open and close waiting lists, how to set waiting list priorities, how to process applications, and many other details,” Kelly says. “And it will help guide you on training marketing staff and avoiding discrimination lawsuits.”
Kelly says you also should be familiar with any other guidelines that govern your site. “These could include resident selection plans, management plans, guidelines from other regulatory agencies, or direction from investors,” she says.
Why does it matter whether you follow your marketing plan? HUD management review staff will check on that aspect of your site operations and will want to be certain you followed HUD marketing and fair housing rules. HUD has the right to monitor your implementation of your AFHMP at any time and may request modifications in its format and/or content, if deemed necessary.
Record Keeping Keeps You Current, Compliant
A good way to demonstrate that you're following the rules and your plan is to keep comprehensive records showing exactly what you've done. Not only can this help to prove that you marketed your site without discriminating, but it also can help protect you against claims of discrimination by prospects and applicants you turn away.
Keeping records of your marketing activity also helps you show the step you took to reach extremely low-income households if your site is Section 8 housing. HUD's income-targeting rule requires you to market 40 percent of all Section 8 units that become available each year to “extremely low-income households.” Those are households with incomes no higher than 30 percent of median income. You can't rent any of the 40 percent of available units to higher income households until you've taken “all reasonable steps” to fill the units with extremely low-income households.
You also want to keep records to help you get paid for vacant units. After a unit becomes vacant, you can get vacancy payments on the unit if you can show HUD that you've been making reasonable efforts to lease the vacant unit. Records of your marketing efforts can substantiate your claim for vacancy payments.
What Records to Keep
HUD Handbook 4350.3 states that during compliance reviews, owners must be able to provide documentation that marketing activities for the site have been consistent with affirmative fair housing market requirements and the approved plan for the site [Chap. 4, par. 4-18]. Useful records for this purpose, according to the Handbook, include copies of media and marketing materials, records of marketing activities conducted, and documentation of any special marketing activities undertaken.
The specific types of records that you should keep depend on how you market your site. But here are some examples of what to have available for HUD to review:
Print ads. Keep copies of all advertisements you place in newspapers, magazines, apartment guides, or industry publications. If you advertise on the Internet, print out copies of your ads showing the Web sites where they appeared and the dates they appeared. If, for example, your AFHMP says you are targeting a particular ethnic group or a senior population and you run ads in an ethnic or senior-focused publication, be sure you get copies of those. Many publications and newspapers will send you a “tear sheet” with the invoice for your ads. Keep a file of tear sheets by month or publication for easy reference.
Billboards. If you use billboards to market your site, you can take a photo of the billboard or ask your sales rep at the billboard company to provide a photo. Your invoice should show the location of your billboard as well as the dates it was posted. Keep that as a record of where and when you advertised. The same goes for other types of “outdoor” advertising you might do, such as in bus shelters.
Television and radio verifications. If you find it more effective to use radio or TV advertising in your market, that should be indicated in your AFHMP. The stations will provide you with verification “logs” of the dates and times your advertising aired and you can use those to show you followed your plan.
Ad “swaps” with local businesses. If you arrange to post a flyer about your site at a local pizza shop in exchange for posting a flyer about the shop in your community room, make a written record of the arrangement to keep in your marketing files. Be sure to indicate the dates when the swap was in effect. You might wish to have the business owner sign-off on the written record to corroborate the arrangement. Keep copies of the flyers you use in the file as well.
Promotional offers. If you use promotional offers to attract qualified residents, keep a written record of those and copies of the material you use to publicize them, such as flyers or ads. For example, some sites draw applicants with the offer of free basic phone hookup. Be sure the records you keep spell out the terms of the offer and the dates of when the promotion started and ended.
Community organization contact. Based on the demographic targets in your AFHMP, you may decide to work with certain community organizations to reach your target. Since these contacts may happen on the phone or in person, you'll want to have a way to keep track of them. Our Model Form: Use Community Contact Log to Show Efforts to Reach Target Groups can help you record these encounters and phone calls.
Waiting list and rejection records. HUD requires you to keep waiting lists for your units and comply with detailed record-keeping requirements. HUD Handbook 4350.3, pars. 4-18 and 4-22 spell out the requirements. Keeping these records have marketing value as well. They can show that you've been effectively marketing your units, even if some have yet to be leased. These detailed records also could protect you against discrimination claims, helping prove you followed waiting list rules.
Traffic records. Maintain a record of prospects who visit your rental office. Ask prospects how they learned about your site. This can show which marketing strategies are the most effective. Also, make notes about how you followed up with prospects.
Along with keeping records of each different type of marketing activity you engage in, you can maintain a monthly calendar of your activities. That gives you an overall record of what you've done each month, at a single glance. You can set up a simple calendar log like our Model Form: Keep Calendar to Record Monthly Site Marketing Activities. You also can use online calendar software to keep track of your marketing activities on a daily basis.
Remember, HUD requires that you review and update your AFHMP at least once every five years, and more frequently if local conditions or project demographics change significantly. In addition, owners and managing agents must make their AFHMPs available for public inspection at their sales or rental offices.
“I think what happens is that we all get busy and it's easy to assume you know what you put in your plan,” Kelly says. “Don't assume. Get the plan out and review it regularly.”
Diana J. Kelly: Vice President, Maloney Properties, Inc., 27 Mica Ln., Wellesley, MA 02481; (781) 943-0200; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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