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Building healthy Idaho homeowners association communities

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Scott Setterlund

When it comes to Idaho homeowners’ associations, a common sentiment is “a community is only as good as the people who live in it.” However, in terms of evaluating an HOA, the true golden rule is “an HOA community is only as good as the people who lead it.”

The media highlights titillating stories of homeowners who have been burned by their HOA.  Most are about unreasonable rules about community resources or property regulations. If you look up HOAs, chances are you’re going to come away thinking they’re the worst invention since asbestos.

Unfortunately, many HOAs are set up that way from the beginning with outdated CC&Rs and rules that were written when flip phones were popular, and then, managed by a volunteer board that lacks sufficient skills.  But, even in new or established neighborhoods, it is possible for board leadership to redefine their association with common goals, desires and ideals.

This is how the idea of HOA living took off and gained popularity in the first place. As long as the intentions are good and there’s a shared desire to improve everyone’s environment, there’s a great chance for success.

Here are a few ways HOA leaders can build and strengthen the bonds within their community.

1. Use third-party services to handle the heavy lifting

One of the biggest complaints people tend to have about HOAs are the rules. When you move into an HOA, there are certain things you agree to do in exchange for the improved quality of life and shared community resources.  This is part of the package; unfortunately some HOAs are stricter than others.

Moreover, things can get sticky for a board once it comes to enforcing these rules. It’s not a good idea for them to get drawn into uncomfortable arguments with their neighbors.

Using a third-party service to manage rule enforcement can help the leadership avoid these entanglements and focus more on building a positive community culture. This enables everyone to approach the situation from a calmer, more objective point of view.

2. Create a network of communication

As is the case for any relationship, communication is key! Set up reliable channels for your association to access and designate someone to respond to their outreach. This could include a Facebook page, texts or email messages. It is essential that people have a way to contact board members to make them feel they have a voice. Members are more likely to engage given the tools to do so.

3. Create social events

Fun and positive social events are the lifeblood of a happy community. While the COVID pandemic has changed the way we approach in-person events, giving people ways to connect and bond is more important than ever.

Community events are a good way to encourage relationships between neighbors. Block parties, movie nights, holiday get-togethers and gift exchanges can be fun ways to foster community intelligence.

4. Encourage feedback

Finally, make sure everyone feels included. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have no control over your house or lifestyle. Give members the opportunity to voice their complaints, whether in person, through a suggestion box or online. People respect leaders who advocate following rules, but are open to feedback. By giving them the chance to participate, this may encourage them to become board members.

Board members need to realize that the association exists to preserve their neighborhood and property values; not to rule with an iron fist.  By creating an environment that brings neighbors together, board leaders facilitate lifelong relationships. In the end, their leadership should create a positive HOA culture.

Scott Setterlund is community development director for MGM Association Management in Idaho Falls.

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