Apartments reaping rewards from area’s progress

Nov. 18
November 18, 2008
Catherine "Cat" Jacobs
November 20, 2008
Nov. 18
November 18, 2008
Catherine "Cat" Jacobs
November 20, 2008

Even as new apartments come online and more are in the works for Houma, the demand continues to grow, according to developers and managers.

With the occupancy rate at nearly 100 percent for the Houma-Thibodaux metropolitan area’s 4,000-plus units, the rental market is ready for escalation.

“Houma is a good place for apartment development because there is such a tight market. There doesn’t seem to be enough apartments for as many people who are looking for them,” said Leeann Miracle, director of operations for Baton Rouge-based A.C. Lewis Management.

The company recently acquired the management contract for three Houma apartment complexes – in May, the 192-unit Acadia Park and, last month, the 108-unit buildings Quail Court and Canterbury House.

“The occupancy rates we’re obtaining are high compared with the rest of the country,” said Henry Richard of Richard Development, which is about to start construction on NorthPark, a 256-unit complex in Gray. “I had some Las Vegas people here who couldn’t believe the rates Houma is getting.”

Houma apartment complexes tend to fall into two categories: those built since 2005 geared toward upper-income residents and those built pre-1980 and geared toward middle-income residents.

Local managers said oilfield and healthcare workers account for a large part of the demand.

“A lot of oilfield workers who are transient, they would rather they rent an apartment than buy a house,” said Houma native Joe Vedros, president of Florida-based VHL Management Group Inc., which opened Southdown Pavillion in 2005. “The healthcare market is very strong in Terrebonne Parish, with Chabert, Terrebonne General and all the cancer clinics.”

“Medical students who are going to Chabert or Terrebonne General, they need six months to a year to do their internships. The hospitals also recommend certain areas to go to for perennials and I think we’re on their list. Oil and gas, like I said, you’ve got your major oilfield companies in there at Southdown Pavillion. There are about 30 of those guys in there. We also have police officers, professionals, doctors and lawyers,” he added.

While the new developments have targeted higher-income people, Miracle said her company focuses more on medium-income residents.

“The way we think is there is always a good market for the regular workforce housing that people need,” she said. “We kind of shoot for middle-of-the-road, regular, everyday folk who are going to work in the plants, offshore, in hospitals or schools. We like to serve that segment of the population as well as we can.”

In today’s tough economic climate, Miracle says apartment living is a viable alternative because residents don’t have the maintenance and upkeep that they would with a house.

“You don’t have to pay someone to mow the yard or fix the air conditioner when it breaks or any minor work order that needs to be done in the apartment,” she said. “We do that for you. Most of the time right now, you’re going to find out apartment living is less expensive than homeownership because you don’t have to come up with a huge down payment. A lot of things are just taken care of for you.”

Vedros said he could definitely envision his business expanding into middle- and lower-income properties in Houma, but nothing is in the planning stages.

“We get calls all the time for the median type units that would rent for less money, maybe $500 to $700 (a month),” he said. “There’s a good market for that. We see a lot of calls coming for those type of units for people who are making $30,000 to $45,000 a year who need housing and can’t afford to get into (Southdown Pavillion).”

Likewise, Miracle has hopes A.C. Lewis Management continues to expand locally.

“I personally hope we can acquire some other apartment buildings and communities in Houma. I think it’s a very nice market to be in,” Miracle said. “I would like to service the community there better with more professionally managed properties.”

The Ansley Place Apartments, off Corporate Drive, has pre-leased about 100 of the 256 units available. The first tenants arrived last month. * Photo by KEYON K. JEFF