Eli Unger on How Mac Properties Reconnected with Residents in KC


Erica Riley

– VOL. 10

Eli Unger, founder of Mac Properties in Kansas City, has long been looking for a way to get his residents connected and more involved in their community. But even as he tried his best, the residents in his complexes — totaling 2,000 units — seemed to become more isolated.

“We were finding over the previous years, pre-COVID, that more and more of our residents who were moving to the area didn’t necessarily have pre-established roots and were working independently, sometimes from home,” Unger said. “And as more and more things were easily delivered to your doorstep, the impetus to get out of your apartment was diminished. And it just felt like a very sort of disconnected reality.” 

The best residents, in Unger’s point of view, are happy residents who are more likely to stay in their apartments longer, rather than moving on to find a new place at the end of their lease. And often, the more connected they are, the happier they are. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Unger felt like those concerns of isolation were only amplified.

“People were dramatically separated from work, from home, from church, from all their other connections,” Unger said. Then he connected with Venn. “And here was an effort that sort of ran hard in the opposite direction.”

Image of Eli Unger Mac Properties

A group of residents from Mac Properties gathered at a Chinese restaurant in Midtown, KC in January.

He partnered with Venn in early 2021, mainly in the hopes of bringing more events to the complex and getting his residents connected. And although Venn did deliver on Unger’s goal of more events, he found that as time passed, residents no longer relied solely on curated events to motivate them to get together.

A Space to Create–Together

Unger had always thought the ultimate resident experience was ordering dinner and inviting residents for a dinner party, but Venn’s team of Venn Experts had other ideas. They suggested providing a nice space, putting residents in touch with each other, and letting them plan their own dinner party with their own dishes, offering to pay for groceries instead of take-out. 

Residents are more likely to keep connecting with others if they take ownership of the experience  – instead of just being in it for the free food. It was a novel concept for Unger, but it clicked.

“So I thought, ‘Okay, why not focus on what we’re really good at and partner with folks who have a different and valuable expertise and see what the outcome would be?’” Unger said.

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Residents were able to RSVP to the event on the Life at Venn app.

Community Connection? There’s an App for That.

Early on in the partnership, the two teams worked together to create opportunities to improve the resident experience and help people in the community get to know one another, and for Venn Experts to get to know residents. To do so, Mac and Venn brought a locally-owned coffee truck outside the Bellerive apartment building one morning in March. Venn employees helped Bellerive residents download the Life at Venn app while they snacked on coffee and donuts.

Discovering how residents use the app has been one of the biggest surprises for Unger. It’s a way for like-minded individuals to find one another and connect, or to simply ask their neighbors if they could borrow a cup of flour. Unger has seen residents who use the app sparingly and residents who use it regularly, constantly connecting with neighbors and the community. But no matter how they use it, Unger is sure everyone sees it as a positive addition. 

Image of Eli Unger Mac Properties

The connections residents make at Venn events are lasting. After the Chinese dinner, newfound friends and neighbors went to karaoke.

For example, a newly arrived resident who posts in the app asking for restaurant recommendations might find themselves being invited out to dinner by several of their new neighbors.

“I wouldn’t have signed up knowingly for somebody to help make it possible for new residents to meet their neighbors to go for dinner, but I’m delighted that I did because I think it’s terrific,” Unger shared. His experience is not unusual for owner-operators that invest in their resident experience, realizing a boost to retention. When Venn asked US renters about the top three considerations influencing their likelihood to renew, 57% mentioned at least one neighborhood factor, including the people they feel connected to in their neighborhood. 

The Big City, Now a Little Smaller

Unger describes his residents as a largely young crowd in their 20s to 40s, with some exceptions. He thinks the app has done a great job of giving the energetic young people who are new to the city or to their neighborhood a way to connect with like-minded people, be it runners, bakers, readers, or wine-tasters.

He likens the resident experience to college. Living in a new place surrounded by people you don’t know can be jarring, but is made much easier when you have an accessible way to put yourself out there and meet your neighbors.

“As a parent of kids who someday are going to move into a new community, you just sort of hope they’re going to find their people,” Unger said. “Seeing that happen in a proactive, warm, compassionate way just makes me feel really good about being a small part of what they’re doing.”