REITs have stepped up in a variety of ways to help their employees, tenants, and communities during the coronavirus crisis.
8/3/2020 | By Sarah Borchersen-Keto
REIT magazine: July/August 2020
What began as a global health pandemic quickly turned into an economic crisis with a far-reaching and potentially long-lasting impact. REITs across all sectors of the economy have spent the last few months adapting to the new landscape created by COVID-19, as they deal with both the immediate challenges of the crisis as well as prepare for possible longer-term fundamental changes.
From the onset of the crisis, REITs across the country quickly embraced their role as good corporate citizens and have actively watched out for others—their employees, tenants, and communities—as they grapple with the new challenges. This has produced an array of generous and creative responses that have evolved to meet the changing needs of those in the communities where they operate.
Continue reading for a sample of the many ways in which REITs have been giving back during an unprecedented time. Please note, this list is by no means intended to represent all of the good works the companies mentioned are doing, nor does it include all those companies and industry leaders who have stepped up in so many ways. Nareit is maintaining an ongoing list of the REIT industry’s efforts to support their tenants, employees, and communities on REIT.com.
Fulfilling a Need for Space
From the start of the crisis, finding space to perform essential tasks while following guidelines for physical distancing proved challenging. However, many REITs quickly stepped in to offer their facilities as a solution.
Shopping center REIT Brixmor (NYSE: BRX) responded quickly to local needs by finding creative and meaningful ways to use its shopping centers as community assets. The REIT fast-tracked approvals of drive-through testing centers, blood drive locations, farmers markets, and food trucks. In Palm City, Florida, for example, Brixmor even hosted a drive-in movie night at Martin Downs Town Center.
Elsewhere in the retail REIT sector, Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, Inc. (NYSE: SKT) properties have been used for Red Cross blood drives, food collection sites, curbside food pickup, and as staging areas for law enforcement and emergency medical services.
As communities received the much-needed supplies, not only did they need a place to deliver them safely, but also to store them as well. Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM) made floor space available inside its facilities for securing supplies needed by health responders and food and drug retailers, as well as providing overflow storage for businesses stockpiling inventory due to service or supply chain disruptions.
Efforts to provide space were not limited to the United States. Through its Space for Good program, Prologis, Inc. (NYSE: PLD) offered unoccupied buildings and yard space for COVID-19 relief efforts to local, state, and federal agencies in the U.S., and to hospitals and relief organizations throughout the world. So far, Prologis has donated more than one million square feet in 13 markets and $5.5 million in in-kind rent to government agencies and health organizations.
While the need for physical space was critical, REITs also stepped up to provide a variety of other essential monetary and non-monetary donations.
Corporate Office Properties Trust (NYSE: OFC) provided a grant of $20,000 to the Howard Hospital Foundation in support if its ‘Care for Our Caregivers’ program. The grant helped provide meals to the frontline caregivers at Howard County General Hospital, in Columbia, Maryland.
REITs spread their philanthropic efforts to causes at home and abroad. American Tower (NYSE: AMT) made grants through its foundation to organizations focused on supporting COVID-19 response and aid efforts, including the American Red Cross, UNICEF, Project Hope, Partners in Health Organization, Boston Resiliency Fund, PM CARES Fund (India), and many more. The foundation has recently committed an additional $2 million to support global relief efforts.
One of the ways that Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR) helped support the communities it operates in globally is through a $1 million philanthropic effort that includes donations to The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s COVID-19 Emergency Appeal. The REIT has also made direct contributions to smaller charitable organizations across Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region selected by its employees living across the six continents where it operates.
In addition to monetary contributions, REITs also tapped into their unique expertise to provide assistance. Partnering with Feed the Children, Americold Realty Trust (NYSE: COLD) transported more than 84,000 pounds of food to aid the nonprofit’s COVID-19 relief efforts. “Americold associates work year round to help put food on tables around the world, and as testament to our ‘Cold Hands, Warm Heart’ culture, we are glad that we were able to jump in and make an immediate impact,” said Americold president and CEO Fred Boehler.
Meanwhile, an unexpected discovery allowed Extra Space Storage Inc. (NYSE: EXR) to do its part during the crisis. Extra Space employees in hurricane-prone areas of the country donated more than 10,000 N95 masks to local hospitals in need after they realized their storage facility emergency response kits included the much sought-after masks. “One of our guiding principles is to ‘Do the Right Thing,” said Gwyn McNeal, chief legal officer and head of people at Extra Space. “We’ll restock the hurricane kits when supplies aren’t in high demand.”
Assistance to Employees & Tenants
REITs actively engaged in helping their own employees impacted by the crisis as well as the many tenants that were so drastically hurt by the shutdowns that took place.
In the case of Arbor Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE:ABR), the mREIT launched a $2 million rental assistance program to help thousands of tenants and families significantly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Arbor Rental Assistance Program (ARAP) was created to supplement existing government rent relief programs and leverage private capital to fill critical gaps for those impacted by a loss of income. The program was offered to tenants at the properties Arbor finances across the country on a first-come, first-served basis.
The idea of bridging a gap and being a real partner in the community was key for Camden Property Trust (NYSE: CPR). The multifamily REIT established a $5 million tenant relief grant to serve as a bridge between when a resident might have lost a job and the receipt of federal benefits. There was more demand for the grant than expected, with the entire $5 million amount allocated in about 16 minutes. Checks were sent out to residents within 24 hours of their grant applications being approved.
Retail tenants have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and REITs knew it was vital to act fast. Aware that immediate access to capital was critical to keeping its tenants’ businesses afloat, Kimco Realty Corp. (NYSE: KIM) piloted a complimentary Tenant Assistance Program (TAP) to assist tenants in identifying and applying for applicable federal and state loans to help their businesses survive the financial impact of the coronavirus.
Other retail REITs have been helping their tenants through practical, hands-on assistance. RPT Realty (NYSE: RPT), for example, established a complimentary Tenant Concierge Service to provide its small business tenants with direct access to a law firm to assist in applying for governmental aid.
Washington Prime Group Inc. (NYSE: WPG) also saw the need for real-world help. The REIT partnered with the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship and members of the University of Chicago faculty to launch the Open for Small Business initiative. It has provided an easy-to-use lease modification as well as other relevant templates for the deferral of payments until local entrepreneurs get back on their feet. The initiative has also hosted a range of educational webinars.
Finding a Creative Approach
Challenging times tend to encourage new ways of looking at and using resources that are on-hand, and REITs have shown they know how to use everything at their disposal during a crisis.
A shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect frontline care workers prompted Lamar Advertising Co. (Nasdaq: LAMR) to join forces with Louisiana State University (LSU). Lamar supplied vinyl billboard material for conversion into PPE for immediate use by healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients at medical facilities across Louisiana. LSU established a large-scale production facility on the Baton Rouge Campus and Lamar’s billboard material has been converted on-site into heavy-duty, reusable gowns.
While supplying PPE equipment fulfilled a vital medical need during the crisis, paying homage to the countless individuals who have been at the front line of the pandemic reflected a more emotional need.
From the early days of the coronavirus crisis, Empire State Realty Trust, Inc.’s (NYSE: ESRT) Empire State Building lit up the New York skyline. In partnership with iHeartMedia, the Empire State Building beamed a light show synced to Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind. The iconic building also dedicated its tower lights to a different first responder organization in late April and early May, shining in their representative colors to acknowledge their bravery and service.
Other REITs have also shown their colors when it comes to supporting first responders. In Boston, the Prudential Center, owned by Boston Properties, Inc. (NYSE: BXP), lit up in red, white, and blue in honor of first responders nationwide.
Meanwhile, social distancing rules forced employees at Ventas, Inc. (NYSE: VTR) to opt for a virtual 5K/10K race to earn mile-matching donations from the Ventas Charitable Fund. By staying active and doing good, employees helped raise $10,000 for Direct Relief and Meals on Wheels America, two organizations dedicating efforts to COVID-19 relief.