When the idea of homeowner’s associations began in the 1960s, they were created to give people access to common areas, like gardens, playgrounds and pools. HOAs were meant to form strong communities who were able to share in those common areas and the responsibility to manage them. When people live in harmony, associations can be beautiful neighborhoods and an extension of one’s home. When people congregate to share common beliefs, the community grows stronger.
But, if you’ve heard the negative stories in the news about homeowner associations, chances are you’ve seen nitpicky board leadership or arguments between neighbors that seem to illuminate disenchanted residents and a lot of frustration. While it’s true that residences of homeowners associations may have disagreements from time to time, HOAs are designed to make life better. However, in this pandemic era, which is laced with social unrest and political uncertainty, our communities are hungry for leadership. It’s important that board members rise to meet this evolving challenge to ensure that their association is stable and intact.
To maintain stability, board leaders should focus on the community-centric ideals that associations were founded upon. They need to examine their priorities and make the necessary changes to their relationships with members. A major focus needs to shift from rule enforcement or chasing membership payments to one of community engagement. Now more than ever, it’s important for leadership to foster positive relationships between neighbors, no matter what their role is. Of course, the HOA rules still need to be upheld, but they are also much easier to enforce once everyone believes in the collective guidance of their leaders.
The root of many HOA conflicts happen for one reason: people, today, are less likely to know their neighbors. Misunderstandings can spin out of control, and everyone risks missing out on potentially great relationships. Imagine how different a neighborhood would be if everyone knew each other’s names. Everyone could find someone to talk to, someone to walk their dog or someone to watch their house while on vacation. These kinds of community bonds are missing in today’s smartphone, social media society, and a properly managed HOA can be a path to fix that.
One of the main responsibilities of a board member should include networking with people in their association. The first step is proper communication, and because of the internet, there are multiple avenues to connect with members. Some suggestions include setting up a neighborhood Facebook page, emailing fliers and bulletin announcements about association activities, creating a community information board or creating a neighborhood social event. It is also important for the association members to know how to reach their board members and each other.
Big community events are a bit tricky to manage in this social distancing environment, but in many ways, that makes them even more important. We all need support during this time of uncertainty, and the people around us, particularly our neighbors, should be resources to lean on.
Humans are social by nature, and it’s healthy for us to commune together. During uncertain times, it’s so important to foster feelings of connection, not separation. Board members need to re-evaluate their role in this regard as well and work harder to engage with their neighbors, as better leaders make better friends. Fostering relationships is the key to building better communities, and HOAs need those role models.
Scott Setterlund is community development director for MGM Association Management in Idaho Falls.