How to Tackle the Staffing Challenge from the Inside

Qualified employees are hard to find these days. Everyone says it. Frankly, it’s always been a challenge to find (and keep) those who know how to manage assisted housing. That was the case 38 years ago when I started with no background in property management or program regulations.

Let’s face it. Assisted housing is a “dinosaur industry.” The old HUD and RD properties are an endangered species and reaching for new sources of funding (think “tax credits”) and creative strategies (think “RAD”) to recapitalize. And the result?

  • The assisted projects are even more complex; and
  • Finding qualified staff is even harder.

Some would say “training is the answer.” It is certainly part of the answer. But training will not provide the uninitiated with the confidence to communicate with regulators. Nor will it bestow the new hires with the historical knowledge and problem-solving strategies critical to their success and to the success of the organizations that employ them.

My answer is “mentoring.” I have had the privilege of taking a number of younger, intelligent, motivated, and super-certified individuals under my wing – usually informally and occasionally as clients. What these upstarts need is someone of whom they can ask the real questions they have while trying to master their jobs – without fearing judgment or ridicule – the questions to which some of their colleagues might think or imply they should already know the answers. It is equally important to coach them on how to effectively and confidently interact with their supervisors, regulators, property owners, and other intimidating types.

Let me give you an example. For some time, I have been mentoring a young man who landed an asset management position over a diverse assisted housing portfolio. He was fearful of letting others in the organization know his limitations so he contacted me for assistance. This fellow has the “stuff” to be very successful in the assisted housing industry, and it is unfortunate that he was unable to identify and ask an insider to be a trusted mentor.

The best mentors, in my opinion, are those who have been successfully mentored themselves. I was lucky enough to have been mentored by my mother, a pioneer in the assisted housing industry. In addition, in my first year, I asked a seasoned account executive at the Denver HUD office if I could use him as my resource. He agreed and I learned things from him that I could never have learned only by reading regulatory documents and handbooks or achieving the seven designations/certifications listed on my business card.

The mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial. And what is mutually beneficial to the mentor and the mentee is of immense benefit to the organization as whole. To that end, organizations are wise to identify seasoned team members with the interest and capability to be effective mentors. Further, they should facilitate these relationships with as much flexibility as possible to ensure a good fit. And what if the organization lacks seasoned employees? Such organizations should consider going outside to provide the type of mentoring I endorse, starting at the top of the organizational chart.

The familiar admonishment to employers to hire people for their attitude not for their skills has been challenged by human resource practitioners and others. I say, whatever it is that you are basing your hiring decisions on, “Hire people for their [fill in the blank] and mentor them.”