Stability, Growth, and Sustainability: Avenue Living’s Themes for 2023

Themes for 2023

2023 was a challenging year for Canadians and the broader markets. While inflation has slowed and interest rates appear to have stabilized, the overall economic picture continues to fluctuate. 

“It’s been only one year, but we’ve seen changes that you don’t normally see within five,” says Gabriel Millard, Senior Vice President, Capital Markets – Equity and Research. “We’re still in the midst of digesting one of the fastest rate-hiking cycles in history, with a lot of variables in the macro environment.” 

In light of this, investors have expressed increased interest in alternative investments for stability and returns that are non-correlated to public markets. Against that backdrop, we’ve continued to invest in the everyday, striking a balance between defensibility, growth, and sustainability across our strategies. 

Multi-family and self-storage: from pause to growth 

“During the first nine months of 2023, we took a deliberate pause on acquisitions within both our multi-family and self-storage strategies,” Millard says. “Over that time, we saw material net operating income (NOI) improvements from rent adjustments enabled by heightened service standards and introducing new operational cost-efficiency measures.” 

Avenue Living shifted gears in the back half of the year, adding over 1,600 units to our multi-family residential footprint. In November, we finalized a deal with a large institutional investor for a 700-unit portfolio across five towers and a number of townhomes.  

“We’re seeing opportunities to acquire higher-value properties from institutional players, including pension funds, which weren’t available even two years ago,” Millard says.  

As borrowing costs accelerated, the importance of vertical integration, active property management, and managing rising costs in the real estate space became acutely clear. Across both the multi-family and self-storage markets, pure capital allocators struggled to sustain their investment returns, creating more acquisition opportunities. 

“We’re exiting 2023 at just over 17,000 multi-family units,” Millard says. “The Mini Mall Storage Properties fund also grew quite rapidly to almost 8 million square feet — including the largest acquisition in its history of almost 900,000 square feet across 19 properties — making Mini Mall the top 21st largest self-storage operator in North America by rentable square footage.”  

The multi-family Prairie markets are seeing growth from record net immigration, driven by households seeking affordability. A sizeable portion of these newcomers are coming from higher-growth markets like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal where rent payments can take up 40% to 50% of households’ income.  

Historically, self-storage has proven to be a resilient asset class and remained stable even in times like the 2008 North American real estate crash. Robust consumer-driven demand continues to propel the investment class, painting a constructive picture.   

Strong tailwinds for Canadian farming 

Avenue Living’s two Saskatchewan-focused agricultural strategies, the Avenue Living Agricultural Trust and Tract Farmland Partners LP (Tract), have also managed well amid persistent demand for farmland investment from across Canada.  

In its mid-2023 report on farmland values, Farm Credit Canada saw Saskatchewan lead the nation with an average gain of 11.4%. Most locations in the province, the report said, saw increases between 7% and 11%. 

On the ground, Tract identified acquisition targets from word-of-mouth referrals within the farming community, a testament to its reputation as a trusted partner. Coupled with the ability to service increasing rents owing to strong commodity prices, the organization saw a steadily bullish case for its agricultural strategy. 

“It’s a consolidation play that’s still just in its early stages. An estimated 98% of transactions within the province remain outside of investment funds, and we’re continuing to acquire assets,” Millard says. “By the time we close a deal, we’re already seeing impressive appreciation.” 

ESG efforts coming to fruition 

Roughly two years after striking its partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), Avenue Living is moving forward on a number of energy retrofit projects across its multi-family residential portfolio, including work on large solar arrays, exterior renovations, and mechanical upgrades. 

“A large portion of the acquisitions in our self-storage fund are within the Sun Belt region of the United States. Our portfolio is made up of assets that are wide, not high,” Millard says. “That offers an abundance of roofline where we’re able to implement solar projects.” 

Avenue Living’s agricultural strategy also lends itself well to ESG, given Canada’s outsized role in producing staple grain products. 

“The opportunity to help improve food security for Canadians and other nations is something we’re very proud to be a part of,” he says. 

Avenue Living released its first full ESG report in 2023, with a second one set to come out this year. Beyond that, we’ve bolstered our commitment to responsible investing. In 2021, we became a signatory to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and over the last year we furthered our commitment and became members of the Responsible Investment Association (RIA). 

Avenue Living continued its annual Avenue Giving campaign, bringing together donations from residents and staff to support local food banks. We also launched an Employer-Supported Volunteerism program in the last quarter of 2023. In three months, employees volunteered for over 160 hours with 10 organizations including local food banks, Canadian Blood Services, veteran and seniors’ resource centres, community kitchens, and drop-in centres across the Prairies.  

For 2024, a continued stewardship focus 

From the beginning, Avenue Living’s growth has been inextricably tied to its commitment to the customer. Millard says that focus will continue in 2024, along with a focus on ensuring defensibility across the organization.  

“Since 2020, it’s been a volatile period, and 2024 doesn’t appear to be any different,” he says. “As a responsible asset manager, we’re maintaining a leverage profile in the low 50%, and keeping over 10% of our NAV in liquidity to ensure defensibility.” 

Last year, Avenue Living acquired over half a billion dollars in multi-family assets. With a large pipeline of acquisitions, it’s pressing its growth advantage in 2024, allowing improvement of margins by spreading fixed head-office costs over a larger number of units. 

“We don’t grow for the sake of growth, but to improve our overall operations through accretive transactions,” Millard says. “Through technology and operational improvements, our focus is to continually level up our operations for the benefit of our residents, customers, and investors.”  

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them.  

2023 Year in Review

2023 Year in Review

Over the last year, we’ve stayed the course and once again proved we’re equipped to navigate any environment.  
 
We saw a number of formative milestones in 2023, including our largest acquisitions to date in both our multi-family and self-storage funds as well as achieving over $5 billion in assets under management. 
 
Moving forward, our focus is on bringing our proprietary management model to more Canadians and expanding our investment offerings.

Avenue Living’s Most-Read Content for 2023

Most-Read Content for 2023

Examining the economy and markets heading into 2024, we see a landscape dotted with opportunities. We believe our strategy of measured growth, sustainability, and defensibility has put us in a strong position for the next leg of our journey. 

As we reflect on the year, we’re looking back on the blogs and white papers that resonated most with our readers in 2023.  

The topics run the gamut from our partnership-oriented agricultural investment strategy to academic research on key stakeholder segments for our business, to our efforts in leading the charge on sustainable workforce housing. 

At the heart of it all is our commitment to providing value for our residents, investors, and the communities where we’ve put down roots.  

BLOG: 

Harvesting Alpha in Canada’s Agricultural Heartland 

We unpack how the Avenue Living Agricultural Land Trust and its successor strategy, Tract Farmland Partners LP, are set to benefit from long-term tailwinds while prioritizing an active approach and partnership with the community.  

WHITE PAPER: 

An International Examination of Market Orientation and Performance in Residential Property Management 

In this peer-reviewed study, our leaders in the Capital Markets team, Gabriel Millard and Cameron Hills, collaborated with the University of Regina’s Dr. Grant Wilson to examine how a commitment to understanding and serving residents translates into tangible benefits — including loyalty, trust, pride in accommodations, and timely rent payments — for residential property managers. 

BLOG: 

Multi-Family Retrofits: The Case for Going Green 

Following on from our 2022 partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), this blog outlines the energy-conservation measures (ECMs) we’re planning across our Canadian portfolio of multi-family rental properties. It also uncovers our framework for ensuring the viability and impact of deep energy retrofit projects. 

WHITE PAPER: 

Examining Personal Financial Advisors’ Knowledge, Client Recommendations, and Personal Investments in Private Real Estate and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) 

In another collaborative study published in the Journal of Financial Services Marketing (JFSM), our Chief Investment Officer, Jason Jogia, worked with Dr. Grant Wilson to investigate the under-researched subject of financial advisors’ REIT knowledge and engagement with REITs, including how their personal perceptions influence client recommendations. JFSM is a leading journal in finance and marketing, ranked B on the ABDC list, and recognized by all management and real estate journal quality lists. 

BLOG: 

Revitalizing Canada’s Housing Landscape: The Crucial Role of Retrofits 

As the country manages two major challenges — housing affordability and environmental impact — it’s becoming clear that retrofits to existing buildings are a key part of the solution. This blog looks at how strategic retrofits can help solve Canada’s increasingly critical housing supply challenge. 

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them. 

Investing in Alberta Real Estate | Edmonton

Invest in Edmonton Real Estate

Avenue Living has always believed that the Prairies is a region filled with promise. We were founded here and have strategically invested in Alberta since 2006, and today we own and operate approximately 3,500 multi-family units in Edmonton alone. While others may have looked eastward, or to the coasts, we have kept our eyes firmly on western Canada.

“We’re focused on continuing to build our multi-family residential portfolio in the Prairies,” says Gabe Millard, SVP Capital Markets — Equity & Research. “There’s plenty of opportunity to deliver safe, affordable, comfortable housing to our target demographic, workforce housing residents.” Amid rising interest rates and inflation, Alberta attracts people from other provinces as well as new arrivals to Canada due to its affordable cost of living and strong employment prospects. 

Promising Market Demographics 

Alberta has experienced population growth in the past year, especially inter-provincial migration — in 2023, it led the country, with a rate significantly higher than other provinces. Edmonton’s population is expected to grow from 1.25 million to 1.86 million by 2033, and the city is expected to surpass the two-million mark by 2041. In 2023 alone, the province grew by 3.5%

Many industry experts anticipate the demand for multi-family residential rentals to increase as the population ages, a trend that holds true in many municipalities. The demand for apartment-style housing tends to be high among younger populations just forming households, then rises again as people grow older and seek alternatives to single-family homes. 

Alberta is known for its affordability, and Edmonton has a reputation as an affordable “big city.” In 2022, a benchmarking study ranked Edmonton among the most affordable in the country.

Industry and Employment 

In addition to being an affordable city, Edmonton boasts a high median renter income, 42% higher than the national median thanks to strong employment opportunities. While the province is renowned for its energy sector, an industry that has driven employment for decades, Edmontonians also work in a variety of other industries. The city has a strong technology sector, fueled by its reputation as a leading research and education centre — the University of Alberta is home to the National Institute for Nanotechnology and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. The city is also home to several regional offices of major banks. 

Edmonton’s largest employer is Alberta Health Services (AHS); the government of Alberta is second. The University of Alberta is also a top employer, and one of the country’s leading research institutions. In total, there are six post-secondary institutions in the city, which provide services to 180,000 full and part-time students each year. Other leading employers include manufacturers, engineering firms, and retail — the West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping centre in North America, and the city is also home to the continent’s largest open-air retail development. 

Edmonton’s location is also a draw for the distribution and logistics sector, it’s home to a major intermodal freight facility, and CN Rail has announced intentions to consolidate operations in Edmonton. 

Culture and Recreation 

Edmonton has a thriving cultural scene. Known for its arts festivals (including the Edmonton Fringe), you’ll find 25 local theatre companies, contemporary dance troupes, and more. The city is also filled with museums and art galleries, including the Royal Alberta Museum and the Alberta Art Gallery.   

The ICE District — the area surrounding the Rogers Place Arena — is home to restaurants, entertainment, retail, hotels, and office space, all in the downtown core. The revitalized, mixed-use district attracts tourists and Edmontonians alike.  

Nearby, the Edmonton River Valley Park attracts visitors on foot or on bike. The park is the largest urban park in North America, and boasts more than 160 km of maintained pathways that connect 20 major parks. People flock to the park year-round to boat or canoe, for picnics, to run, walk, bike, or cross-country ski and skate in the winter months.  

South of the valley is Old Strathcona, a historic district home to retail, farmer’s markets, pop-up art galleries, and restaurants. The neighbourhood is a registered provincial historic area, populated with heritage buildings erected in the early part of the 20th century.  

On the horizon 

Avenue Living is investing in a significant renovation of its Capital Tower building, a 12-storey, 179-unit complex in the city’s downtown core, acting as a gateway to Chinatown. This set of deep retrofits includes an 85-foot art installation by renowned Edmonton artist Lance Cardinal, and this mural will be constructed as a vertical solar array to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The refurbishment of this building will contribute to the growing community in this district, which is on the upswing.  

That sense of community is something we strive to foster in all our properties — and we see plenty of opportunities for growth across the city. 

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them. 

Capital Tower: A Beacon of Sustainability and Community Revival in Edmonton 

Capital Tower in Edmonton

On the periphery of Edmonton’s downtown core sits a 12-storey, 179-unit building that Avenue Living is transforming into a modern, affordable, and sustainable multi-family residential and commercial building. 

Built in 1970, Capital Tower is located at the gateway to the city’s Chinatown district. And as with so many buildings of its vintage, it’s due for a refresh. Upon completion, the building will provide warm, inviting homes to the vibrant surrounding community.  

Art Meets Sustainability 

Capital Tower’s revitalization focuses heavily on sustainability and reducing its environmental footprint — measures that will also provide an improved living experience for residents. Most notably, this project will include the largest vertical array of solar panels ever proposed in North America — one that also doubles as a stunning piece of art.  

The north face of the building will be home to a 26-metre (85-foot) tall mural designed and illustrated by Edmonton Indigenous artist Lance Cardinal. The mural represents the unity, coexistence, and cultural similarities between First Nations and Chinese Cultures using imagery from the Cree seven sacred grandfather teachings and the Chinese zodiac. Thanks to technology from solar panel innovator Mitrex, the landmark artwork also harnesses the energy of the sun to help power the building.  

Beneath the solar façade, new insulation on the building’s exterior walls — which will add an R-value of 12 — will improve the efficiency of the interior. Coupled with new triple-glazed windows, the measures will help keep residents comfortable year-round and allow the heating and cooling systems to run more efficiently. 

But the upgrades don’t stop with the building’s exterior. 

“We’re making improvements to almost every building system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Neal Shannon, Avenue Living’s Senior Vice President, Capital Projects.  

A Broader Commitment to ESG 

These improvements are part of our broader commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives across our portfolio. This approximately $26 million project is made possible thanks to favourable financing terms with BMO. The arrangement allows us to access funds from both BMO and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to complete the green retrofits, which meet CIB’s Environmental Consumption Measures (ECMs).  

“This project is separate from Avenue Living’s partnership program with CIB,” notes Daniel Veniot, Associate Vice President, Capital Markets — Debt. “But BMO has its own relationship with the CIB, allowing us to access advantageous lending terms through their programs. Together, these terms will allow us to offer residents upgraded suites at fair market prices, so we can continue to serve our target demographic.” 

Meeting the CIB’s ECMs also allows us to take part in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) multi-unit loan insurance project, MLI Select. MLI Select is a points system that offers insurance incentives based on affordability, energy efficiency, and accessibility. “This project qualifies for MLI Select based on the environmental upgrades alone,” says Veniot. 

Building Comfort and Community 

The renovations and retrofits are designed to improve the experience for those who call the building home. The property will have features and amenities that foster community, including a rooftop garden, library, games and movie room, fitness centre, storage area, and refurbished commercial space on the main floor.  

The in-suite upgrades will provide increased comfort for residents while contributing to emissions reductions. Heat pumps in each suite — along with smart thermostats — will allow residents to accurately control the temperature of their environment through both heating and cooling. The addition of new makeup air units also helps improve air circulation throughout the building, eliminating cooking odours, improving air quality, and keeping temperatures more even throughout the space. These measures all contribute to improved health for occupants, according to the Canada Green Building Council

Other improvements include LED light fixtures in both common areas and suites, modernized elevators, and updated bathrooms and kitchens. Taken together, the renovations all contribute to an elevated experience for future residents.  

A Community on the Rise 

The result will be a high-quality, safe, affordable and comfortable property that contributes to the revitalization of the surrounding community. In recent years, the area has seen renewed education, hospitality, and entertainment options. The building is within walking distance of the ICE District (Edmonton’s entertainment hub), Epcor Tower (one of the newest AA office buildings in the city), and Grant MacEwan University. It’s also close to transit lines which gives residents easy access to the University of Alberta and other business districts. Nearby, the Station Lands development is revitalizing an underused part of the downtown core, transforming it into a vibrant, walkable community. 

The project, which is already underway, is set to be completed in late 2024. We’ll provide regular, more detailed updates here, so follow along for the full story as it unfolds.  

 

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them. 

The Benefits of Submetering in Multi-Family Residential 

Submetering in Multi-Family Residential

Rising energy costs and the environmental impacts of energy consumption are at the forefront of Canadians’ minds. Statistics Canada reported that Alberta’s electricity prices rose by 128% year-over-year in July. These increased costs, along with the environmental impacts around energy consumption, have prompted organizations and individuals to look for ways to reduce their utility usage. 

Traditional methods of charging residents for utilities by including them in fees (based on square footage, for example) might seem straightforward on the surface, but it can end up costing both property owners and residents more.  

Residential and commercial buildings in Canada account for 17% of our energy consumption. Reducing that consumption is a key part of the overarching strategy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help meet the Government of Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero by 2050.  

Different Methods of Utilities Distribution 

There are three main ways to deliver utilities to a residential unit in a multi-family property.  

  1. Master meters: Traditionally, utilities have been delivered to a master meter, and the total cost of these services is split evenly between the units and included in each resident’s monthly rent. Every resident pays the same price, regardless of how much water or electricity they use each month.  
  1. Individual unit meters: Some properties use individual meters in each suite, and utility hookups and pricing are managed directly by the resident. They assume the costs of access fees and other riders connected to their utility bill and are subject to rate fluctuations. In this case, property owners have no visibility into what the resident is using or how much they pay. 
  1. Submeters: Properties with submeters receive water, gas, and electricity through a master meter, but also have a submeter in each unit to measure individual consumption. Residents pay the submetering company for their utilities, based on how much they use. The property owner might assume the access fees and the resident may have the benefit of a lower rate if the property manager has negotiated one with utility providers. 

The Benefits of Submetering 

When it comes to energy consumption, knowledge is power. With submeters in each unit, both residents and property owners have a deeper understanding of consumption habits and opportunities to reduce waste. 

A clear picture. Individual submetering allows residents to see how much energy they use, and property owners can understand their residents’ usage. With a clear picture of consumption, property owners can make informed decisions about equipment maintenance and upgrades, finding ways to optimize the building’s energy use overall. In turn, residents can see their own consumption patterns, and make decisions accordingly.  

Responsibility… and accountability. With submeters, residents are responsible for their own energy, heat, and water use rather than paying a portion of the bill for the entire building. They only pay for what they use, rather than what their neighbours might be consuming. This motivates residents to be mindful of their daily energy usage. 

The potential for better rates. Some property owners, like Avenue Living, can negotiate lower bulk utility rates for their residents rather than a single customer could on their own. In addition, property owners might assume some or all of the access fees.  

Environmental benefits through reduced emissions. Studies suggest that submeters can reduce a building’s energy consumption significantly — a study in New York revealed that submetering reduced consumption by 18-25%, while a building in Ontario recorded even bigger savings (approximately 40%). This is likely because residents can see their consumption and make choices to reduce it, and property owners can realize the tangible benefits of installing energy-efficient fixtures.  

Increased efficiency and building value. The ability to monitor consumption also helps property owners and managers spot equipment failures or building inefficiencies. A spike in water consumption could indicate a leak, for example, or high energy use could flag the need for appliance upgrades. This insight allows the property owner to be proactive about maintenance, increasing the property value and comfort for residents. 

Avenue Living’s Submetering Strategy 

Avenue Living has transitioned several buildings to a submetered system. The submeters we have installed are certified by Measurement Canada, and the program is implemented through a certified third-party provider.  

“Avenue Living still covers the cost of utilities in common areas and vacant units,” notes Daniel Klemky, Energy Manager at Avenue Living. “But with submetering we can now give residents the tools to take control of their own costs and be accountable for them. In many cases, we also give people the benefit of a much lower utility rate, due to our negotiations with the providers as part of our procurement strategy.” 

The comprehensive insight we get from submetering will allow us to accurately measure the impact of our energy efficiency capital improvements (e.g., replacing a furnace or installing solar panels). And as we continue to upgrade our properties through the deep energy retrofit program, in partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank, submetering will play a crucial role in meeting the reporting and data collection requirements.   

Submetering provides numerous benefits to both the resident and the owner and is becoming a common tool for property managers to quickly take control of energy consumption, and reduce emissions and operational costs.  

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them.