Scott Pope: Stay Ahead of Change at The Post Office

by Katie Sloan

The United States Postal Service views most student apartments differently than traditional complexes, which makes mail delivery issues a common operational challenge.

As the semester winds to a close and student housing communities across the nation settle in for the long hot summer, minds are usually anywhere but at your apartment community’s mailbox. Thoughts of prepping for the mass return of students are quickly brushed away with images of swimming pools and relaxing in the sun. Mail delivery is rarely a consideration, and why should it be? It’s never been before. But don’t ignore the possibilities of a change, because the post office is looking for and thinking about new ways that can save money. This could mean that as an operator, you may be stuck with new time challenges and expenses like you’ve never experienced. I should know. I am a retired United States Postal Service (USPS) postmaster, and I am going to share with you what is likely coming your way.

Traditional apartment communities have it easy. Because of the existing standards defining transient housing, they get full services from the post office (as in a carrier actually puts mail in mailboxes and all those other services you normally expect). However, student housing is an entirely different story: These residents turn over frequently, with an average renewal rate of just 35 percent (and many more moves on-site throughout the year). Because of this, the USPS has designated that student housing apartments are to receive a single-point delivery. In fact, many communities are currently not receiving any deliveries at all and are being forced to have their students / residents seek on-campus mail or find private P.O. boxes elsewhere.

But who can blame the post office? It is very expensive to handle mail (in some cases in the tens of thousands of dollars per delivery route stop). If they can shift the burden of this expense on the apartment community, think of how much money could be saved in time, pay, benefits, and vehicle expenses. In addition, the USPS is now transitioning to online services to complete a change of address. The post office is losing money, struggling with time and working to lessen liability concerns. Mail for student housing is just another piece of the puzzle.

So what is an apartment community to do? Sure, certain sites are grandfathered and will continue to receive full-service delivery. In other cases, there may have been a lack of training for identifying single-point delivery locally by the USPS. But those (decisions or lack of findings) will eventually flip as well.

Are you going to pay on-site employees tens-of-thousands per year to handle the mail for your residence hall or student housing community? What kind of training are they going to receive? What are your liability concerns? But there are many other factors to consider, too; crowded package rooms, ongoing pickups, shortage of space, time spent by everyone on site (desk agent to community manager), and what happens if anyone is sick? The task can not only be overwhelming (six-days-per-week), but do it wrong, and you face fine, imprisonment or both.

A better option may be to hire a third-party mail management services company. These types of companies can find for you more effective ways of saving time and money in the long term. Also, the full service component offered becomes a fixed line item on a community’s budget; limiting liability concerns, employee expenses, inbound package tracking, and drastically reducing hassles.

As time goes on, the post office will begin to explore the removal of the grandfathered mail delivery services — it’s a fact. The USPS will continue to be more aggressive to lessen their financial burdens related to student housing. Make sure you are prepared, because your apartment community is most likely already in the cross hairs of the postal service.

Scott Pope, USPS Postmaster — Retired, is the director of operations for The Postal Solutions Companies, a mail delivery and management organization that serves on- and off-campus student housing.

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