Latona Wortham of Draper and Kramer, Incorporated, became the property manager of Lake Meadows Apartments in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in February 2020, just before the pandemic-related shutdowns. Lake Meadows has 1,869 apartments across nine buildings, managed by a team of 55 on-site staff, so it’s been quite a year for Latona as she has maintained day-to-day operations while ensuring residents feel happy and safe in their homes.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I’m a small-town girl from nowhere, Missouri, but as long as I can remember, I have always been attracted to the bright lights of the big city. After graduating from high school, there was only one option for me – to leave everything I knew behind in Kansas City and follow my heart to Chicago. I attended Harrington College of Design, where I studied interior design, which piqued my interest in real estate.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I remember wanting to be a doctor because I liked helping people. As I learned more about myself, I couldn’t imagine working in a hospital setting and began exploring careers off the beaten path, like cosmetology and investigative journalism. I knew that I wanted to spend my days in an upbeat yet fast-paced world where I could help people and work on special projects in the creative space.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I began my real estate journey as a relocation expert and made a concerted choice to transition into property management. It was challenging to break into multifamily management, and with some persistence, I found my first opportunity with Draper and Kramer. I jumped into my role as assistant property manager at one of Chicago’s largest apartment communities feet first and I loved it. I learned a lot about risk management from Bonnie Wu and I was excited to face new challenges day after day.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
When I first entered multifamily, I didn’t have a mentor, but after working in the field, I’m very fortunate that I work under Colleen Needham, a general manager at Draper and Kramer. I really admire her because of all of the things she has accomplished. Colleen is extremely knowledgeable (about everything!) and is a great sounding board. She really lets me explore my ideas and make decisions autonomously when needed.
What does a day in the life of Latona Wortham look like?
A day in the life of a property manager at one of the largest multifamily communities in the Midwest is everything that one would imagine: at times chaotic, challenging and rewarding. Everything we do is big, from planning routine maintenance to resident events, and there is always something happening. With so many residents, I rely on an extra-large team to help keep the machine running smoothly. There are a lot of moving parts that come with operating nearly 2,000 doors and it would not be possible to keep the wheels turning without them.
We start each day with a (virtual) morning huddle through our internal messaging platform and continue the day competing in a never-ending GIF war. While we definitely enjoy the social nature of our work, my team also knows how to get down to business. On any given day, we may be working on rent collection, lease renewals or unit turnovers, all while managing day-to-day resident services and programming.
What do you most like about your job?
I’m fascinated with transformation and really enjoy seeing the final results of capital projects. I like the problem-solving aspects of my position, the ability to make a lot of decisions that impact our bottom line and, most of all, I enjoy wowing our residents. I take the business of maintaining someone’s home seriously and am personally invested in the overall satisfaction of our community. I want my team to love where they work and my residents to love where they live.
I spend my days directing daily operations and maintaining the property. Through COVID, we overhauled our regular routine and implemented new protocols on the fly. It was quite an undertaking but we were able to implement systems that kept residents happy with the safety of our maintenance heroes in mind. Overall, I’m responsible for the operational success of my property. The projects, team and tasks I oversee maintain the asset for ownership and increase NOI.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
For now, I will continue investing in my property and my team. Long term, I’d like to be a regional manager and earn the IREM CPM® designation (Certified Property Manager®). I’m also interested in the world of construction project management.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
Time away? What is that? I work long hours but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m one of those annoying people fortunate enough to truly love what they do so I’m never truly “away.” In my downtime, I’m on the hunt for the best mac ‘n’ cheese Chicago has to offer or teaching myself how to rhythm skate.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
Saint Lucia is a tiny island located in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean and is absolutely beautiful. I loved the laid-back culture of the people and being on “island time” but am looking forward to visiting Tokyo, Japan.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Caitlyn Van Senus, Property Manager at Draper and Kramer – you’re up. I would also love to hear from Sherine Azzam, a broker associate at Baird & Warner.