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.  

Where Story Meets Strategy: Meet the Avenue Living Marketing Team 

Avenue Living Marketing Team

The Avenue Living story begins in 2006, but the story of our current marketing team and how we formulated our strategy is rooted, like so many things, in the pandemic. 

In the days when the world ground to a halt, and everyone waited to see what would happen next, we realized people were craving information, and we increased our output when many other organizations went dark. We shared daily updates about our business and the investment landscape, giving insight into our operations and how we were managing what were turbulent times for everyone.  

And since then, we haven’t stopped. In fact, we’ve found more ways to get the word out, exploring new channels and mediums to reach our audience at various touchpoints. The team has grown alongside the business — as we’ve expanded our geographical footprint and offerings, the demand for collateral and communication has increased. 

Thought leadership has become a cornerstone of our strategy, as we dig into topics like the promise in the Prairies, the future of multi-family residential and self-storage, or our landmark partnership with the Canada Infrastructure Bank. “We’re an open platform,” says our Chief Investment Officer, Jason Jogia. “We’re eager to share our ideas with our peers to further advance the industry and create a better overall experience for renters across North America.” 

Those ideas come from our fellow team members in all areas of the organization, who spearhead exciting new initiatives, driving innovation in the property management and investment industries. 

The Avenue Living Marketing Team 

The Marketing and Communications team is a conduit for getting those ideas out to the world. Avenue Living’s vertical integration means we have the tools and expertise to serve every aspect of our business in-house — including marketing.  

The “MarComm” group, led by Senior Vice President Tammy Cho, includes strategy, content creators, back-end development experts, designers, photographers, and videographers. Together, the team works to tell the Avenue Living story and share insights into the investment landscape. We come from a variety of backgrounds, from tech to advertising and finance, allowing us to bring unique perspectives to our approach (and unique opinions about a wide range of topics, including the best kinds of mustard). 

“Avenue Living’s branding and communications strategy is always evolving,” says Tammy. “Our dynamic team keeps pace with the market and industry while raising the bar on how we interact with our customers, investors, and employees.”  

Avenue Living Marketing Team
Avenue Living’s Brand Evolution

A Strategic, Multi-Channel Approach 

Transparency is key to how we operate, but for us to be truly transparent we proactively tell our story in a well-researched and meaningful way. And that’s where our marketing team comes in. They’re part of our proprietary platform, which supports every aspect of the organization and helps ensure we deliver value to our audience.  

We work hand in hand with our sales team and help our investors gain insight into the world of real estate investment by keeping a close eye on what’s happening in the finance space, multi-family residential market, agricultural sector, and the self-storage industry.  

Together the team works to produce videos, social media, blog posts, year-end reviews, a biweekly newsletter, and regular reports for our investors. We create ad campaigns for broadcast (maybe you saw us during the Stanley Cup playoffs) and other channels like BNN. We help coordinate and promote industry events, sponsorships, and partnerships that shed light on innovations or educate our audience about real estate investments. 

But we also uncover the best stories to tell you — the ones that let people see our core values in action across every area of the organization, from our safety initiatives to our market selection strategies. The marketing team is here to shine a light on the efforts of our entire Avenue Living team, from ESG partnerships to continuous improvement.  

“We’re innovative and original,” says Tammy. “We’re consistently going against the grain to bring a fresh perspective on real estate investments while delivering the best experience for our stakeholders.” 

Avenue Living Marketing

Leading the Way 

True thought leadership means looking beyond our own front doors and talking about the bigger picture — the external factors that affect the macro-economic environment and inform our strategy. We pay close attention to trends and innovations in property and asset management that we believe are valuable. 

As active managers our focus has always been on our customers, and how we can deliver a top-tier experience to them — whether they’re making their home with us, storing their treasures, or leasing the land they work. We believe sharing our insights with our peers elevates the industry as a whole. And keeping our investors informed helps them understand — and have confidence in — our strategy and operations.   

Our efforts have paid off, our LinkedIn subscriber base has grown by 27% in the last year. While our recently revamped website — in conjunction with a rebrand and advertising campaigns — has significantly increased our website sessions, getting many more users acquainted with Avenue Living. We pay careful attention to analytics, fine-tuning our topics to address the subjects that our audience finds most relevant and useful.   

Perhaps best of all, we get to tell you about the people who make Avenue Living what it is today —our property management experts, safety team, legal counsel, the analysts driving our efforts to always do better, our People and Culture group, and the finance and investment experts who make sure we execute on our strategy. In an organization full of brilliant minds, we’re thrilled to be the partner that shares the value they’re adding every day. 

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. 

Building a Culture of Safety at Avenue Living

Safety at Avenue Living

A happy workplace is a productive workplace. But did you know that safety is a major contributor to employee satisfaction? Workplace injuries carry a significant impact, impacting tens of thousands of workers every year, affecting their families, co-workers, and communities. In 2022, Canada’s Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) reported there were 4.33 injuries per 100 workers in Canada

One of Avenue Living’s core values is “Duty of Care,” and while we often talk about it in relation to our residents, customers, and our investors, it also applies to our workforce. That duty manifests itself in creating an environment that seeks to minimize risks for every member of our team, whether they work in our offices or out in the field.  

Safety is more than a set of policies and procedures, it’s part of an organization’s culture, and it flows from the top down.  

“Safety is connected to everything,” says John Price, Senior Vice President Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE). “The better your safety culture, the more engaged your teams are. Studies show that organizations who have highly engaged employees can reduce safety-related incidents by up to 70 per cent.” 

An article published by the Harvard School of Public Health notes that “engaged workers are more likely to be aware of their surroundings and best safety practices making them more likely to take steps to protect their co-workers.”  

This engagement also has a ripple effect. “Everyone wants to feel that they’re valued,” says John. “It’s true that happy employees are the best employees. It’s a key ingredient in building the highest performing teams.” 

In practical terms, facilitating safe work environments results in bottom-line benefits: reduced absenteeism, better employee retention, lower insurance costs (through reduced claims and a better safety record), and better overall performance. While there’s no way to eliminate risk completely, a positive safety culture increases trust throughout an organization — both with employees and their peers, and between employees and management, reducing disruptions to business. 

Avenue Living’s Culture of Safety 

“We’re focused on putting the tools for safety in people’s hands before they start work,” says John. Those tools include high-tech solutions but also plans and policies, training, and an organization-wide mindset that prioritizes everyone’s well-being. “Most workplace injuries are preventable when we’ve adequately equipped our teams with the knowledge, solutions, and planning necessary to carry out their jobs safely and effectively.” 

We achieved our Safety Certificates of Recognition (COR) from the Alberta government starting in 2020, which requires third-party audits of safety practices, and we’ve implemented various technological tools to help keep our remote workers safe, track incidents, and monitor hazards. Software such as SitePhotos allows us to share visual records of maintenance jobs, and the ClearRisk application helps us track hazards and document risk mitigation. For lone workers, SolusGuard provides an extra layer of security via a panic button and app that prompts regular check-ins. 

Always Moving Forward 

But technology is only part of the story. A culture of safety ensures that everyone in the organization, from the top down, is committed to preventing incidents and putting barriers in place so when an incident occurs, no one gets hurt. Humans make errors and it’s important that, as a company, we work together to build capacity around these situations. “It’s how we grow and improve. There’s no better teacher of how to make work safer than those who perform the tasks,” says John. 

Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of our organization, and we’ve taken a closer look at how our HSE team is structured and found a way to best serve the diverse needs of our different business units.  

“We’re creating some bench strength and giving each team dedicated specialists,” says John, who notes that the restructuring was in response to hearing different business units’ needs. Now our self-storage, property management, and other areas have their own single point of contact with the safety team. This structure allows our safety specialists to develop deep knowledge of each business and work closely with the team to identify challenges and create solutions. This is key to a proactive safety culture. 

Over the past year, we have also developed more robust emergency plans. For example, in March 2023, we launched an emergency response plan across the organization that outlines safety procedures for potential risks.  

Across our organization, we’re developing a robust incident command system to help our teams manage emergencies such as extreme weather events. This system provides a platform for how we respond and recover from major events that affect our customers, teams, and assets. 

Additionally, management performs regular site visits. “Being on-site is the best way for them to understand the safety requirements in our day-to-day operations,” says John. It also allows opportunities for the entire team to connect in person, strengthening trust and opening the lines of communication.  

All these efforts serve to keep us — and the communities in which we work — safe. And they have an added benefit. As a customer-centric organization, taking care of each other allows us to focus on the thing that sets us apart: delivering superior service to our residents and customers across North America.

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. 

How a Resident-Centred Approach Has Differentiated Avenue Living

Resident-Centred Approach

A resident-centred approach is foundational to our property management philosophy and a key differentiator of our business model. Putting our residents’ needs at the heart of our acquisition, expansion, and service strategy has been key to our ongoing success. 
 
Read more about how embracing vertical integration has allowed us to create a sophisticated, innovative property management platform. 

Investing and Connecting with a Community: Wetaskiwin Mall’s New Mural

Wetaskiwin Mall

Inclusivity can take many forms — the people who make up an organization’s team, the causes they support, and the principles they operate under. But it can also take the form of representation in other ways like in the case of Wetaskiwin Mall, an exciting piece of original art, painted by a local, renowned Indigenous artist.  

As property owners and operators, we know our investments have an impact on the people who live and work in the communities in which we operate. We invest in spaces — multi-family homes and commercial space — that people develop deep connections with. The mural at Wetaskiwin Mall aims to showcase the culture of the community and evoke the theme of “Healing Medicine.” 

Collaborating with a Local Artist 

Painted by distinguished Indigenous artist Lance Cardinal, the 50-foot mural in the north wing of the mall symbolizes many ways of healing: ceremonial, medicinal, cultural, and healing through dance — a fitting subject given its location right outside an Alberta Health Services office and the Care Gateway Clinic. Cardinal painted the mural over ten days, with the help of an assistant.  

Cardinal, from Big Stone Cree First Nation, is an artist and entrepreneur on the rise. In 2022, he collaborated with the Edmonton Oilers to write and produce the team’s new land acknowledgement and design their Turtle Island logo, which helped raise funds for Edmonton charities, while being one of the most popular and beloved alternate designs in the team’s history. His shoe collection with Kunitz Shoes, an Edmonton-based company, is set to launch this year and is currently on display at the Royal Alberta Museum.  

Wetaskiwin, Alberta, which is 70 km south of Edmonton, is a community of around 13,000. The city is located on Treaty Six territory, bordered by two of the four Maskwacis First Nations — the Ermineskin and Samson Cree Nations — and serving two others — the Louis Bull Tribe and Montana First Nation. Wetaskiwin has rich Indigenous history; its name (which means “the hills where peace was made”) is a direct reference to the outcome of a battle between the Cree and Blackfoot. 

Bringing People Together 

Our strategy with Wetaskiwin Mall has always been to create a “community hub,” a place that provides customers with the essential services they need all in one place. In addition to national retailers and locally-owned stores and services, the mall is also home to Alberta Health Services, a pharmacy, medical clinic, optometrist, and more. Avenue Living has invested in Wetaskiwin for over a decade, with a presence that includes 401 multi-family units and 158,000 square feet of commercial space. In keeping with a key tenet of our strategy as an active manager, we have developed a deep understanding of the market and its residents.  Since acquiring the shopping center in 2017, Avenue Living has carefully curated a roster of retailers and services that reflect the needs and wants of area residents.  

“You don’t usually see local art in a retail environment like this,” says Slava Fedossenko, Director, Commercial Asset Management for Avenue Living, “but we wanted to create something that reflects the culture of the community.” 

Avenue Living is immensely proud of our partnership with Lance Cardinal and the finished mural. While it is one of the first projects of its kind for us, we have plans to ensure it is not the last, and we look forward to working with local artists in other communities to showcase the places our residents and customers call home.  

Read more about Lance Cardinal and this exciting project in The Wetaskiwin 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. 

International Women’s Day 2023

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made toward gender equality — and the work that still needs to be done. 
We believe every employee should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and are committed to creating a culture of respect, inclusivity, and diversity. By providing equal opportunities for all employees, we’ve created a business that’s stronger and better positioned to serve our customers and communities. 
Hear firsthand from our team about how they’ve navigated leadership roles and fostered inclusivity.