Ahead of their involvement in our Student Accommodation Conference next week we’ve been speaking to Brookfield’s Jeannie Wong – Senior Vice President of Portfolio Management…

Brookfield has a massive presence on the UK Student Accommodation market, with 20,000 beds under management with the Student Roost brand, how do you ensure you provide a real home for your residents?

Student Roost is committed to ensuring students have a great experience. This includes through properties close to university campuses, high-quality rooms and shared spaces and facilities, 24/7 customer service in every property from an onsite team, and a programme of social events and opportunities to get to know others in the building. Student Roost offers a range of rooms and studios at different price points, all have all bills included.

What are your plans for further expansion within the UK Student accommodation sector, and are you targeting any specific locales?

Through our UK student housing business Student Roost, we continue to focus on micro-locations in cities that serve multiple universities.

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly tough on students, with significant disruption to education and struggles with isolation, how has Student Roost been supporting your residents through this time?

Student Roost have had the flexibility to be able respond fast, listen to customers, and team members, and make decisions based on doing the right thing for its customers and employees. This has included steps to change our ways of working and ensuring our properties were safe. Student Roost was able to maintain its 24/7 on-site service across all its properties, introduced a full resident support service to help anyone who needed to self-isolate, and invested in mental health support provided by UniHeads.

In 2020, Student Roost, with Brookfield’s support and involvement, was one of the first PBSA providers to release students from rental payments if they had moved home early because of COVID-19 and the closure of universities. At the start of this year, a similar scheme was set up to offer a significant discount if residents were affected by the UK-wide lockdown and unable to return to their residence after the winter holidays. These were big decisions, but they were the right thing to do to help residents at a particularly difficult time.

What procurement routes does Student Roost favour with your schemes and how do your projects present opportunities for the supply chain?

Student Roost has grown significantly over the last four years and has ramped up its development pipeline through developing its own assets and partnering with local developers, in addition to acquiring existing student accommodation properties. Because of this growth, and with some contracts from acquired properties reaching the end of their term, we can procure at scale, providing buying power, ensuring efficiencies and a higher standard for our residents across the UK. We also have improved supplier loyalty as we can now offer larger and longer-term contracts across our portfolio.

Brookfield also has a substantial European presence under several recognised brands, with 35,000 purpose-built accommodation beds, what do you see as being the greatest differences in the continental European and UK student markets and how does Brookfield respond to that?

The greatest difference is the stage of market maturity. The UK is 10-15 years ahead of continental Europe. However, our objective is the same, to build scale PBSA platforms with vertically integrated sales and marketing, property operations and finance. In continental Europe there is a lack of existing stock, which means that more development and forward funding is required to build scale, something that not all investors and developers can do.

The £45m York House scheme in Nottingham is set to go live in time for the 2021/2022 academic year, what has been the vision behind the scheme, and do you have any further plans for the city?

There is a big demand for PBSA in Nottingham because of its two universities, and York House is Student Roost’s fourth property in the city. Like all Student Roost properties, York House has been designed around what students want and need. It is right in the city centre, only a few minutes’ walk from one of the city’s two universities and close to public transport links. There is a large high -quality gym and lots of indoor spaces for students to get together with friends or be ‘alone together’. The pandemic has made us more conscious of the importance of outdoor spaces for wellbeing, so working with the developers, we have put a lot of thought into the look and feel of the property’s two outdoor courtyards.

What are some of the key messages you are hoping to get out on the day of the Student Accommodation Conference?

We continue to view student housing a compelling investment opportunity due to the supply and demand imbalance that remains across the UK and continental Europe. It provides a secured income stream and a diversified revenue model where you can add additional services. It is also countercyclical to the property sector and adds portfolio diversification to our funds.