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How to Market Affordable Housing Communities Online

If you’re responsible for marketing affordable housing developments, you know that reaching potential tenants can be a challenge. Traditional marketing channels may not be as effective in reaching your target audience, and advertising on these channels can be expensive. Additionally, using the same tactics that you would to market a “luxury” multifamily complex may not yield the same return on investment (i.e leads) when applied to affordable housing.

Multifamily marketers may think that they have their work cut out for them when it comes to marketing affordable housing online, but while there may be some challenges, there are also many opportunities to reach and engage potential residents in a cost-effective way. At the end of the day (or the campaign), it comes down to one key tenet of marketing: knowing your audience and understanding how to best reach them.

What makes marketing affordable housing different?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as “safe, decent, and affordable shelter for all Americans.” According to HUD, a household is considered overburdened if it spends more than 30% of its income on housing costs.

While public housing and publicly subsidized housing are included under the umbrella of what is “affordable” in real estate, the term is most often used in relation to market-rate housing that is affordable for a specific income bracket. Quality affordable housing is a great community addition, providing “greater tax generation, creation of jobs, opportunities for economic development, increased job retention and productivity, and the ability to address inequality”, according to Habitat.org.

With benefits like that, it’s easy for marketers to think that affordable properties will sell themselves, but without a targeted marketing strategy, marketing campaigns can end up attracting too many unqualified leads and not enough of those they are aiming to connect with.

Audience is the most crucial step in understanding the best way to market affordable housing – so you know who you are trying to reach, what obstacles may be in the way, and what resources are available to overcome these obstacles.

If you are marketing a property with income-restrictions, you’re aiming for those who fall only within those income limits, so what can you do to ensure you’re reaching prospects who actually qualify for your community?

Choosing digital over traditional marketing tactics

Pew Research Center, 2021

While print has been a useful avenue for marketing affordable properties to accommodate potential access issues, nearly 9 in 10 Americans today are online. Though print can be effective, when your marketing budget is constrained, it can be a better investment to put your dollars into digital marketing.

Marketing using social media, blogs, and email campaigns can all be effective in increasing visibility and engagement with your property and can be easily done in-house. Marketing online is also shown to perform better and experience a higher ROI than print or other traditional forms of advertising, while spending less overall.

Marketing online also guarantees more control over your advertising campaigns – from audience targeting to budget. Digital marketing materials are also more adaptive as they can be quickly adjusted to address changes in both community and property needs – say, if there’s an uptick in searches for affordable two bedroom homes or suddenly you have multiple one bedroom vacancies. For this reason, it’s important to consider putting more of an emphasis on your digital marketing strategy and optimizing your digital marketing assets, especially for mobile use.

What is a mobile-first digital marketing approach?

Optimizing for mobile requires an established online presence informed by your understanding of your audience. When Americans with lower incomes tend to rely on their smartphones more than any other device, ensuring those marketing materials are mobile compatible can greatly influence your ability to communicate that presence and connect with your target market. Here’s what you can do to implement a mobile-first approach: 

  1. Mobile-friendly, branded website

A mobile-friendly, branded website is key in today’s market. Like with conventional apartment marketing, a branded website can do wonders for legitimizing your brand and expanding your brand’s community reach. But, being mobile-friendly is essential and means more than finding a way to easily communicate your brand presence; it also means assessing your site’s web accessibility, loading speeds, and website responsiveness on a mobile device to ensure that people with accessibility needs can access your marketing materials. 

  1. Mobile-first ads 

Pay close attention to your campaign analytics; if your audience is reported as mostly engaging with your brand on a mobile device, you should be utilizing that device information in your campaign moving forward. By targeting mobile devices and tablets more intentionally, you are meeting your target audience where they are and using user data to your advantage.

  1. Imagery

Be mindful of how the UI experience can change between desktop and mobile devices. Choose photography and design styles better suited for portrait-mode on a mobile device, so your brand can transition as seamlessly as possible. This also means reviewing the mobile-view of your ads before you publish them, so you can rest assured that your ad translates well to a mobile interface.

  1. Advertise to mobile-friendly social media platforms

Investing in your brand makes for an easy conversion to social media platforms, which you should definitely be taking advantage of throughout your affordable housing campaign.

Advertising through mobile-friendly social platforms allows you to select the channels on which you want your ads to run, while also giving you the ability to target a very specific audience. You can use these platforms to share information about your community, drive traffic back to your website, or promote current vacancies. By utilizing either organic or paid social media posts, you can reach individuals who may not be actively searching for housing – making social media an excellent way to get in front of a new audience.

These all may seem like tedious tasks, but with a mobile-first approach, these factors can make all the difference in how prospects experience your brand. When so many prospects are experiencing your brand for the first time on the small screen, mobile accessibility to your community should be prioritized.

How can we better qualify the leads for our onsite teams?

Capturing the community’s attention is only one obstacle when it comes to marketing affordable housing. Another is that oftentimes affordable properties may snag lots of prospects, but only a small few of them are actually qualified to be reviewed by their leasing team.

This can cause a big headache for their leasing office and compliance team as they spend unnecessary time reviewing prospects who don’t meet income requirements. It can also be a turnoff for prospects who are interested in the property but don’t want to waste their time applying if they don’t meet the requirements.

Do You Qualify? - HPD
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development

Provide Clear Guidelines

To combat this, some properties provide very clear guidelines for their income restrictions on their website or their ILS listing, so renters who are interested in their property can know if they may qualify before they even apply. The chart above from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development is an example of a great way to convey this information.

Ask Screening Questions

Other properties may ask a few automated screening questions about income or other prospect information before allowing applications to be sent out.

Create An Online Calculator

Having an income and expense calculator can also be very helpful to your prospects who manage strict budgets, so transparency is key when it comes to attracting qualified leads. Not sure how to get one on your website? Ask if your current website provider can provide this, or speak to a Resi rep about our great affordable housing website solutions.

Use A Third Party For Verification

Some property managers choose to go a step further in the qualifying process and outsource income verification to third parties like Snappt Inc, ensuring the applications that come across their desk are almost certainly qualified candidates for the property.

All of the above are very attainable solutions that will take steps to improving lead quality, allowing for greater productivity of your team, with far fewer headaches.

Utilizing community engagement

Even if you choose not to invest much into the traditional marketing route of flyers, broadcasts, and billboards, it’s still important to engage with the community. One crucial aspect of understanding your audience and the value an affordable community can bring to a city is understanding that the primary target of affordable housing are the very people who hold the community together.

This could be teachers, grocery store clerks, or any other public-serving professions. These people are the lifeblood of a city. They’re the ones who interact with the public on a day-to-day basis and they’re the ones who have a pulse on what the needs of their community are. By engaging with them, you’re not only marketing your affordable housing community to the people who need it the most, you’re also getting invaluable feedback on what the needs of your target audience are.

Here are a few community engagement ideas to get you started: 

  • Create blog posts featuring community members or events of the city
  • Engage with and promote reviews from your residents to boost your community reputation
  • Partner with local businesses. This could look like collecting exclusive discounts for your residents, participating in the local chamber of commerce events, or sponsoring the local farmer’s market. By partnering with organizations, you’re not only building goodwill within the community, you’re also getting your name out there and making it known.
bus passing through shed

Community also includes amenities, which should be another focus of your affordable housing campaign. If your property is located near convenient commercial spaces and public transportation, you need to make sure these amenities are highlighted.

High quality and relevant amenities can be key selling points for your property, and some you may not be able to afford to miss. A gorgeous, well-kept pool or extensive 24-hour gym may be an awesome amenity, but it may not mean much to your renters with different priorities.

This is why community engagement is so important; finding out what your community wants and will use can provide direction for the property’s development and marketing strategy. Conduct in-person surveys or use survey tools such as Typeform or SurveyMonkey to hear directly from the community. If you’re worried about response volume, you can incentivize insightful responses by offering small rewards to encourage community members to take the survey.

Community engagement also looks like inviting the community into your space. Cement your place in the community by literally becoming part of it; amenities that are open to the public are a great way to cultivate a positive image and become an attractive asset to the community.

Hosting events and providing your commercial and amenity spaces to events and groups that align with the interests of your target audience is also an admirable way to engage with the community. This could be anything from art classes and concerts to after-school programs or fitness classes. By becoming a hub for activity in the community, you’re not only promoting your development, you’re also becoming an invaluable part of the cityscape. 

This is where many affordable housing developments go wrong! In order to get the most return on their investment, developers will often skimp on the quality or quantity of their community amenities, which leads to a subpar experience for residents and disconnection from the community. This, in turn, creates a negative image of affordable housing that can be difficult to change.

Instead, by investing in quality and offering inclusive and thoughtful amenities, affordable housing developments can become an integral part of the community.

It’s important to remember that when you’re marketing affordable housing, you’re not just selling a product, you’re selling a lifestyle. By marketing the community aspect of your affordable housing development, you’re giving people a reason to choose your development over others.

What else makes a successful affordable housing campaign?

Luckily, many of the strategies and best practices you already know for conventional multifamily marketing still work when marketing affordable housing.

Investing in your community’s online presence via consistent branding and a unique website, social media and paid advertising, listings on popular internet listing services, and a Google My Business listing are all conventional multifamily marketing strategies that thrive in affordable housing.

Additionally, accessibility should be centered in your campaign, from use of clear language in your advertising materials to the creation of high-quality assets like photos or virtual tours of the property. The best strategy for marketing affordable housing is to put the same care and effort into marketing as you would any other property; neglecting to do so can make it challenging to fill up your vacancies or otherwise add to the negative stigma about affordable housing. 

If you take the time to understand the needs and preferences of the affordable housing audience, you’ll be able to create an effective marketing strategy that will help you fill your development with happy, qualified residents.


If you’re looking for multifamily marketing that will impress, look no further than Resi. We specialize in multifamily websites, branding, and marketing, and we have a proven track record of success. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you market your multifamily housing development.

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