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.  

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. 

Avenue Living passes $5B in Assets Under Management

Avenue Living passes $5B

Our CEO and Founder, Anthony Giuffre, sat down with Real Estate News Exchange (RENX) to discuss Avenue Living’s recent acquisitions, growth strategy, and how our expertise as property managers is helping us navigate the current market.

Read the Full Article

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 Mid-Year Review: Laying the Foundation for Stability and Growth 

2023 Avenue Living Review

As our leadership team reflects on the first half of 2023, the theme is one of sustainability and continued growth for Avenue Living. As we progress throughout the year, we’re poised to reach new milestones given the strong foundation we have spent the last few years cultivating. Each of our funds has access to a robust vertically integrated platform with talented experts in finance, legal, marketing, technology, accounting, HR, and customer service to support their operations. As we grow, that platform scales with our different businesses, allowing us to maximize efficiency across the organization.  

Multi-Family 

This year, our Core Trust has sustained its steady growth trajectory, as the groundwork from previous years allowed us to find upside in constrained markets. Our approach as an active property manager, and the platform we have built to support our operations, has helped us deliver superior resident experiences and manage our assets while mitigating rising costs.  

“We remain focused on our defensibility and advancing our business for the rest of 2023,” says Avenue Living Founder and CEO, Anthony Giuffre. “We continue to be bullish on the Prairies given its population growth and affordability when compared to other markets.” Our multi-family acquisition pipeline includes over 3,000 units in the region which have the potential to close in the latter half of 2023 or early 2024, which could bring our portfolio to over 18,000 units.

“Our investments in people and technology have created the basis for us to support new acquisitions across our asset base without increasing management costs,” says Jason Jogia, CIO of Avenue Living. “This ability to scale, coupled with our ability to borrow strategically while taking advantage of the inverted yield curve, allows us to minimize our costs while investing in our assets and delivering a superior resident experience.”  

Sustainability remains a key cornerstone of our business, as we invest in capital improvements and strategically plan our projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our portfolio. These projects — many of which will launch in the second half of 2023 and progress over the next four years as part of our landmark partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank — will improve the energy consumption of approximately 240 buildings and enhance comfort for around 10,000 Avenue Living Communities residents.  

Self-Storage 

Mini Mall’s focus on operational efficiency at the beginning of 2023 has been key to its growth. This approach has allowed the front-line customer service team to deliver a consistent experience at every location, bringing new acquisitions to the MMSP standard.  

“With over 100 stores coming online last year, we wanted to stabilize our operations and quickly produce consistent performance and results on these assets,” says MMSP CEO, Adam Villard. Mini Mall delivered on that by adding operational expertise to the executive team and focusing on efficiency, resulting in close rates increasing by 48% and delinquencies decreasing by 84% between January to June.  

“We’ve really been focused on ‘the three C’s’,” says Villard, “closing, cleaning, and collecting.” By putting strategic practices in place to help close leads, bringing facilities up to the Mini Mall standard for aesthetics and cleanliness, and lowering delinquencies, site managers and staff can concentrate on creating a seamless customer experience across the organization.  

Mini Mall also implemented new marketing and customer service strategies to refine its lead generation process, which doubled results between the end of March to the end of June. “Those efforts are really what’s driving our business right now,” says Villard. 

Going forward, Villard sees Mini Mall maintaining strong occupancy throughout the winter to balance the seasonal fluctuations the industry is known for, and continuing to drive targeted programs to build on revenue and occupancy numbers.  

Farmland 

2023 has been a notable year for our farmland investments as we developed and launched Tract Farmland Partners – building on the success of our Avenue Living Agricultural Land Trust. Interest in farmland as an investment gained traction during the pandemic and it shows no signs of slowing. In its first six months, Tract now holds 3,560 acres of arable land.  

CEO of Tract Farmland Partners and Agricultural Land Trust, Leif Snethun, credits the recent world events for the uptick in people’s interest in food supply, noting that the launch of the Agricultural Land Trust in 2017 was slower to get underway than Tract has been. There has always been interest in farmland, but since 2020 it has become more widespread among investors.  

“The farmland industry has always been a wonderful space to be in,” says Snethun. He sees Tract adding more assets to its portfolio for the remainder of 2023. “I’m eager to see the momentum build as people remain interested in the agricultural sector and want to know where their food comes from.” 

Our Path Forward  

The first half of 2023 has been significant for our investment vehicles, as we fostered our ground-breaking partnerships, launched new projects, and saw growing investor interest in our asset classes. Our active management model and platform of services — coupled with careful planning and analysis — will allow us to capitalize on a breadth of opportunities. We’re excited to continue driving our business forward and deliver a competitive advantage in these unique economic times.  

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. 

What is Workforce Housing?

What is Workforce Housing?

Workforce housing residents comprise a substantial part of an economy’s essential services, with studies suggesting they represent 40% of the renter population. Avenue Living’s strategic focus on multi-family residential, and specifically the workforce housing demographic, anticipates the growth of this important segment of the population and their increasing demand for high-quality, affordable housing.

Starting in the 1970s as an experiment in American ski towns, workforce housing provides affordable and conveniently-located housing options for individuals and families who are part of the local workforce. These homes, like those first developed in Colorado as described in the video, are available for people who work in the region but may have difficulty affording market-rate housing due to lower incomes and consistently increasing housing costs.

Over the decades, workforce housing has expanded well beyond purpose-built communities across North America. Similar developments and buildings can be found in various communities, and they continue to meet the needs of workers who earn moderate to middle-income wages (approximately $15-$50 in Canada).

As a crucial part of a well-functioning community, workforce housing offers many benefits for residents and the communities they live in. It supports local economies, job creation, and employee development. It reduces commute times and contributes to housing affordability. In addition, a community rich with workforce housing can see benefits such as increased access to healthcare and education, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and a higher quality of life.

Watch the video to learn more about the history of workforce housing and why it’s the focus of our multi-family investment funds.

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. 

What Investors Need to Know About Borrowing Amid Rising Interest Rates  

Borrowing Amid Rising Interest Rates

The past year has been punctuated with announcements of rising interest rates, as the Bank of Canada (BOC) redoubled their efforts to combat inflation with successive rate hikes. The latest, in July, brought the overnight rate up by 25 basis points to 5%, its highest since early 2001. Changes in interest-rate policy can have wide-ranging effects throughout the economy, and for real estate investors, it’s vital to interpret the different outcomes between long-term and short-term rates. Understanding the inversion of the yield curve — where long-term interest rates are lower than short-term rates — can help well-prepared property owners mitigate risk. 

Understanding the Yield Curve 

Figure 1 

During the period of rising interest rates, there has been a notable difference between prime-based borrowing rates and bond-based borrowing rates in Canada. While the prime rate has experienced significant increases (from 2.7% in March of 2022 to 6.95% in June of 2023), the Canadian 10-year bond rate has remained relatively stable over the same period. Whereas retail borrowing is often based on prime, commercial borrowing is traditionally based on long-term government bonds. Therefore, well-managed commercial borrowers will generally be less impacted — as compared to retail borrowers — by the recent rise in interest rates. One of the many upsides to indirect real estate investment through entities such as REITs is that investors are able to benefit from the relationships and knowledge of a team of experts. By indirectly investing in real estate, everyday investors can take advantage of bond-based borrowing rates through a strategic asset manager, without becoming a commercial borrower themselves. 

With the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) setting lending rates at a spread over the 10-year bond, those who have access to bond-based borrowing for long-term decisions have been in a more favourable position since the beginning of 2022. A visual representation of these trends can be observed in Figure 1. 

Figure 2 

As per Figure 2, during an inverted yield curve, where long-term interest rates are lower than short-term rates, long-term borrowing becomes cheaper than short-term borrowing. By securing financing at lower rates, long-term borrowers benefit from stability and predictability in their interest costs over an extended period. Conversely, short-term borrowers and those with variable rates may experience heightened volatility and financial strain as their borrowing costs increase in response to rising short-term interest rates. The inversion of the yield curve emphasizes how important it is for borrowers to consider duration and structure when interest rates are rising. 

Rental property owners facing rising interest rates can take advantage of the differences in duration between short-term leases and long-term debt. Using long-term debt instruments, such as a 10-year mortgage, alongside shorter lease terms, allows property owners to adjust to changing market conditions in real-time, counterbalancing the impact of higher borrowing costs. However, property owners should also consider market conditions and the resident experience before implementing this strategy. 

Interest Rates and Homeownership 

Rising interest rates — and the resulting increased cost of short-term borrowing — can have a negative impact on development projects, lowering construction activity and limiting the supply of housing units. With fewer developments, the cost of housing increases, leading to higher rents and housing prices. Scarcity of supply and increased borrowing costs compel developers to set higher prices for their projects, ultimately affecting affordability. 

A survey conducted by Chartered Professional Accountants Canada identified several barriers to homeownership among non-homeowners in the country. Rising interest rates were cited as the top obstacle by 89% of respondents, followed closely by the affordability of down payments (84%), necessary renovations (83%), and finding a home in a desired area (83%). Other challenges included taxes and mortgage payments (81% each) and income instability (69%).  

Existing homeowners also faced hurdles, with renovation costs affecting three out of five individuals, ongoing difficulties in affording home maintenance (46%), and challenges with mortgage payments, property taxes, and utility payments for varying percentages of respondents. These findings shed light on the financial obstacles Canadians encounter in their quest for homeownership, as well as the ongoing strains faced by prospective and existing homeowners. 

Navigating the Landscape 

Canada’s rising interest rates present distinct challenges for many sectors of the economy — but they also give rise to opportunities. It’s essential for borrowers to understand the benefits and drawbacks of short- and long-term interest rates and formulate their debt strategy accordingly. For property owners, understanding the interest-rate landscape, managing duration, and responding to local market conditions can help minimize borrowing costs and optimize revenue.  

Understanding how an asset manager uses different debt vehicles to mitigate risk and reduce borrowing costs allows investors to make informed decisions. Asset managers like Avenue Living, for example, can make strategic use of short- and long-term borrowing to potentially maximize returns and de-risk their portfolios. Considering an asset manager’s borrowing strategy — along with other factors — can help investors find the vehicle that’s right for them. 

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.