Building Community Within Your Community
Homeowners Associations, otherwise known as community associations, communities, HOAs or anything else along these lines. The core meaning behind any of the terms used to describe these entities is a group of people who live together and share common responsibilities to take care of their homes. In essence, a Homeowners Association is a business, but it is a community. Yet, so many HOAs are disjointed with many owners accessing their own homes without interacting much with their neighbors. How can we expect the community to be cohesive and homeowners working towards the betterment of the “business” if those that are making the decisions do not even know each other? Apart from the obvious benefits of knowing your neighbors and collaborating with one another, one of the reasons that people choose to live in a Homeowners Associations is because of the community living. Without leadership to bring people together, we often find that individual homeowners or residents will not find ways to make connections beyond the people that perhaps park next to them or live right next door to them. I personally live in a Homeowners Association which consists of approximately 1,000 homes. When I first moved into the community, my next-door neighbor informed me about a group of homeowners that are on a roster that participate in quarterly concerts in the community. It is a block party where one homeowner facilitates concerts on their street and ours. In total this block party includes about fifty of the thousand homes in the community, but I have to commend the homeowner that puts this together independent of the HOA! I witnessed time and time again, the lack of togetherness and community without leadership in the Homeowners Association to drive and facilitate events and circumstances to bring homeowners together. How do we actually get people together and encourage them to get along? The answer is, Board Members and community managers should not simply focus on Board Meetings as the space to foster a sense of community. In fact, that is the worst place to try to build a sense of community. Consider your Board Meeting a space where community politics are aired. People have strong differences of opinions about topics raised in Board Meetings. This is the space where many people will find what they don’t have in common with their neighbors or Board Members. If their point is not taken or considered, people may also harbor a sense of rejection or resentment. I encourage managers and Board Members to create a space where homeowners can come together and find common interests. How can we get our residents together to get to know their neighbors? When there is an actual face to a name, people are less inclined to treat others poorly and are more inclined to value and respect someone they have connected with and with whom they share interests. In this article, I share a number of suggestions that we have actually put into practice. These really work and help build a sense of camaraderie and also creates a space where people can get to know one another without talking about difficult or divisive topics. My first suggestion is to create community potlucks. This type of event does not place a financial burden on any one person or on the Association. Those homeowners and residents who often vocalize their concerns about overspending can rest assured that everyone who participates will do so on their own dime. Perhaps the Board or management can also encourage homeowners to make their favorite dishes. There can be a contest for a particular type of dish such as a pie making contest or a chili cookoff! Rather than awarding someone with a monetary gift for winning the contest, the Association may find a way to award something that is not monetary. Does the association own parking spaces? How about letting the winner use an Association owned parking space for one month without any cost? That sounds like a wonderful incentive that doesn’t cost the Association a dime but will encourage residents to participate in the event. Depending on your amenities, you can get creative and consider ways to recognize and reward someone for their participation in the event, while making it fun. The potluck can offer a space where homeowners can share recipes, find common interests, and generally just enjoy a meal together. It’s an opportunity for people to connect without pressure and in a fun environment. Another example of a community event could be a block party. If you live in a community with single-family homes or with walkways, you can close off a section and play some music, perhaps hire a balloon artist or a face painter, and also encourage people to get together and learn more about each other. We offer a mobile app to our communities, and it allows homeowners the opportunity to create groups online. We also inform homeowners and residents of their ability to create these groups. Homeowners have started dog walking groups, and residents in the community join and find common times to take their furry friends out with their neighbors. Some other clubs that we have seen formed include a wine club, a book club, a hiking club, a tennis club, a swimming club, etc. There are so many possibilities to what groups can be created, and for those homeowners who don’t necessarily initiate engagement, there are options for them to participate and meet their neighbors.
In today's day and age, it's so important to get to know our neighbors and find and focus on commonalities. Home is our safe haven and place for peace, and knowing and enjoying our neighbors only makes home that much sweeter! When people get to know each other and appreciate one another, even Board Meetings become more pleasant. People who know and like each other can speak to each other with more courtesy and will value each other's perspectives more.