Flying High: The 2016 NAA Community of the Year
By Gayle Bennett — September 2016
Tierra Vista Communities at Peterson Air Force Base has earned the distinction of being named the 2016 NAA Excellence Award Community of the Year.
As a 22-year Army retiree, Jerry Schmitz, General Manager and Senior Vice President of Lend Lease Public Partnerships, knows that creating a caring community in military housing is critical.
"I've been in the situation where a lot of our families have one of the spouses deploying for an extended period of time," Schmitz says. "You have to have a community that is safe, comfortable and has the right support mechanisms for them, because oftentimes those situations get really challenging for families."
So in 2007, when Lend Lease entered into a 50-year partnership with the Department of the Air Force to manage Tierra Vista Communities, military housing for Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Schmitz immediately put the focus on customer service.
Schmitz's "labor of love," as he calls his current job, is going well: Tierra Vista is the 2016 NAA Community of the Year for specialty housing.
Managed by Winn Residential Military Housing Services, through Lend Lease, Tierra Vista has 845 new and 704 renovated two- to four-bedroom apartment homes. Community amenities include a welcome center, playgrounds, splash parks, dog parks and walking trails. The community is also focused on sustainability, with Energy Star appliances, solar panels and xeriscaping to conserve water.
While these amenities are important, Schmitz and his team are particularly concerned with building a supportive community through stellar customer service.
"We have a genuine, deep concern about our residents and their well-being," Schmitz says. "We want to make sure they are being taken care of from the moment prospective residents contact us and let us know they are moving to Peterson Air Force Base."
Building a Community in Every Sense
Giving residents opportunities to come together is a big part of what Tierra Vista offers; the community averages two resident events a month. Spa Day is a popular monthly event in which massage therapists offer free 5- to 10-minute massages in the community center. Arts and crafts events for the kids and movie nights for the family are other well-attended, recurring gatherings.
"We do a lot of things in coordination with the base and the Air Force Community Services team here," Schmitz says, "and we do sponsor a lot of those events."
But building a true community often goes beyond resident gatherings.
After a social event in the community center in early March, staff learned that two families had evacuated their homes because their carbon monoxide monitors were triggered. Tierra Vista staff took these families into the community center, fed them and set up portable beds so the children could sleep, all while maintenance staff worked to figure out the source of the problem. (A resident had idled the car in a closed garage to warm it up.)
"It ended up being a pretty late evening for the couple of staff members involved in that," Schmitz says. "It's a great example of how our team will go above and beyond at the drop of a hat to take care of our residents."
Top-Notch Maintenance Service
Much like the property management staff, the maintenance team members put residents first. Tierra Vista residents have 24/7 maintenance service, and the technicians excel at going above and beyond.
"It's typical for a resident to call in a problem with a toilet, and one of our technicians shows up and he also helps the resident with other items, including taking care of the problem he's called out for," Schmitz says. "We've empowered our staff that if a resident has a concern, take action and let's focus on taking care of the customer's need."
One way that Schmitz and his team have created such a responsive maintenance team is by bringing work in house that was previously outsourced. During the past couple years, Tierra Vista has added four maintenance team members to handle painting and flooring. This has been more than just a smart financial decision.
"Beyond being cost-effective, we've been able to control the quality of the work we are performing, while we make sure our level of customer service is embedded in the work that's being done," Schmitz says. "We strongly believe that if our folks that work here have a positive work environment and have a great attitude as a result of that, it's a ripple effect in how they interact with our residents. That whole positive attitude becomes infectious and goes a long way in creating a great living environment for the community."
To ensure staff members are meeting resident needs, Tierra Vista asks residents to provide feedback in two different ways: the annual CEL & Associates' Resident Survey and a third-party immediate customer feedback system. Whenever residents move in or out or have a maintenance visit, they receive an email asking for feedback on the experience.
"It's great to see all the wonderful, positive comments we get on those, which are pretty regular," Schmitz says. "But what's more important for us is if there is something that doesn't happen the way we'd like it to, we get immediate feedback from the resident. This goes right to our property manager and our maintenance manager, and we have a system set up where they contact the resident to make sure that we address the challenges."
One resident seems to sum up the sentiment of Tierra Vista in a survey response. "This is a beautiful and safe community and our family loves living here. I have lived in many homes and this one is my favorite. I appreciate all of the things that Tierra Vista does to make living here a pleasure for the residents. Thank you!"
Gail Bennett is a freelance reporter.