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Part 2: Safety Over Space - COVID Tradeoffs in Multifamily Buildings by Ivana

In part 2 of our series by Ivana Gatica, we discuss the impact student housing has on the multifamily market, especially apartments, through the eyes of people who are doing it.

This pandemic has completely changed the way we navigate spaces that were once familiar.

Those of us who live in large cities know that a lot of thought goes into choosing where we want to live. We look at proximity to public transportation, neighborhood safety, space, price, etc. Residents of mid and high-rise buildings often choose amenities over square feet, location over price. However, many aspects of what makes living in multifamily buildings great can now be considered a risk.

What we traded in square footage was perhaps a smaller price to pay when we spent eight hours a day in the office. If you add commuting time and errands to that, most of us only really spent a few hours a day in our apartments.

With the majority of people working from home now and amenity spaces limited or prohibited altogether, residents are paying premium prices without getting to enjoy everything their building has to offer. Those 600 square feet might feel smaller when we have to spend forty hours a week in them.

What are buildings doing in terms of security, access control, and visitor management to allow residents to enjoy the communal spaces safely? This is what I’ve experienced in mine:

  1. Signs are posted in the lobby and elevators to remind residents to maintain social distancing and wear masks at all times.
  2. Management placed hand sanitizer stations through main access points in the building.
  3. Elevators have each corner marked off to encourage residents to get on only four at a time.
  4. Frontdesk security have plexiglass to protect them. They are required to wear a mask at all times.
  5. Food delivery drivers are not allowed past the front desk to reduce the number of non-residents in the building. Residents must come down to pick up their deliveries themselves.
  6. Residents have a six guest limit.
  7. No guests are allowed in the amenity spaces.
  8. Many shared spaces have a capacity limit, and you need to reserve them ahead of time.
  9. Residents are encouraged to only submit urgent work orders and, if possible, to not be present when the workers come to fix it.

Are these regulations working? The honest answer is kinda.

I’ve noticed that many of my fellow residents fail to wear a mask when walking in the hallways and getting in the elevators. I’ve seen elevators packed with more than four people. I’ve seen groups of people who are most likely not all residents gather in the courtyard and communal spaces. This is not safe and puts others at risk, but building management can do little to control this outside of sending periodic email reminders.

While residents are used to seeing these spaces as an extension of their home, we should treat amenity spaces as any other public space during this time. It’s easy to say that, but it’s also difficult to accept that you can’t share the luxuries you’re paying for with your friends and family. We need to find a balance between being safe and maintaining fundamental freedoms in our living space. Where is this line?

If you remember my last article about dorm living, stricter visitor monitoring and access control measures are sure to be more effective. But is it too much to ask of residents to accompany guests at all times and sign them in and out of the building? Maybe. Building management could try posting staff in the amenity spaces to monitor capacity and implement slightly stricter sign-in procedures for guests. However, in the end, it’s mostly up to us, the residents, to be mindful of our neighbors’ safety and ourselves.

Ivana Gatica graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in Fine Arts and Writing. For the past year, she has been working as a copywriter in the marketing and fintech spaces helping businesses find their unique voice. She also likes to take on freelance writing opportunities in her free time and loves to write fiction and poetry.