Though small with just 13 employees and relatively new to the development industry, Specialized Real Estate Group in Fayetteville, Ark., has stepped boldly into the role of active community participant, health advocate, and philanthropist. Since its founding as a multifamily developer and property manager in 1998, the company’s goal has been to build healthy environments for tenants and their communities. It has quickly become a leading developer of LEED-certified and Energy Star multifamily projects in its state. Its ECO Modern Flats is perhaps the greenest apartment community in Arkansas, redeveloped from a midcentury complex.
“A lightbulb went off for CEO Jeremy Hudson when ECO Modern Flats was being redeveloped,” says Sarah King, director of marketing and community outreach. “He saw how the built environment can impact personal health and how there are so many things developers and property managers can do, from changing air filters to not using VOC paints, carefully researching all products for a cleaner environment, and improving access to healthy food, activity, and land,” she says. To extend its efforts even further, the company encourages residents at its projects to volunteer along with staff. Many have, and have cited their service opportunities in resident satisfaction surveys.
The volunteer efforts so far have included helping Habitat for Humanity; participating in a community meal program; working with an urban farm that provides food to those in need, as well as a farm that teaches elementary school students about growing food; and helping with the city’s Adopt-a-Trail program, which involves picking up trash. Last year, employees spent, on average, 14 hours engaged in company-sponsored community service activities.
This year, the community service and wellness program is focused on bicycling, to coincide with the opening of a 37-mile regional trail that passes by many company properties. Volunteers have also helped city officials install 150 safety signs along the trail.
Also in the works is a partnership with Tri-Cycle Farms, which is building a sustainable, urban farm–park. The two organizations are planting a community garden at Specialized’s 195-unit North Creekside Apartments and documenting efforts by surveying residents and taking time-lapse images to replicate the garden.
“So far, we’ve heard anecdotally how excited many are, and, for some, it’s why they renewed,” King says.