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How to Increase Homeowner Participation in Your Community

Homeowners can often have differing views of their community associations — some positive, some negative —  depending on their source of information and experiences in the community. New homeowners that buy a home that has an HOA may not fully understand the positive impact the association can have on their experience living in that particular community. It’s important that HOA boards work hard to communicate the benefits to all association members and actively solicit committed volunteers to participate on the board and committees to protect everyone’s investment.

Becoming involved in the decisions and direction of their community, whether it comes in the form of serving on the board of directors or on a committee, is one of the biggest reasons why it’s important to have homeowners become active in their community association. After all, that is what makes it a community. HOAs must have a board of directors and officers according to  governing documents and state statute, so it’s an important requirement from a legal side.

Homeowners can become active participants in their communities in a variety of different ways, the most obvious being attending meetings and voting on important issues. Even if they are unable to attend meetings, they can still be actively involved in association business and meetings by sending in their ballots and proxies. Aside from getting involved with HOA board meetings, residents can join any number of  committees — gardening, welcoming, beautification, social — found in many communities.

A community association can go about soliciting participation by promoting the election of a board of directors. Every time you elect a board of directors, there’s a call for candidates — this is when members have the ability to nominate themselves or someone else. In some communities, this is  done by a nominating committee. Association members can sign up to participate in such a committee or they can contact the board of directors or committee chair.

In terms of starting committees, they are appointed by the board. Homeowners can contact their board of directors requesting the formation of a committee and detailing the purpose of committee. Then, the board will take it under consideration, and approve or deny it. If approved, the next steps are to draft a charter and outline the committee’s objectives and scope of authority.
 
Unfortunately, there is indeed such a thing as “bad” participation. This is usually in the form of people getting on a committee or board for reasons of self-interest, such as a homeowner getting on a board specifically because they don’t ever want their assessments to increase. Any homeowner participating in their community association needs to understand they have a fiduciary commitment/duty to working in the best interest of the association, not the members, not the board and not themselves, but the community as a whole.

In terms of what percentage of homeowner participation is a good target, there are various things to consider. Some HOAs have specific approval percentage. For instance, we have a retirement community that has 27 committees — if they don’t have good processes in place or good charters, you could wind up having way too many people involved to ever be successful. In most cases, if you have, say, a 50-unit condominium building, they’re fine with 3-5 members on a committee. However, if you have a 1,000-lot subdivision with amenities and marinas, you’ll need a many more people participating

Generally, the best time of year to reach out to homeowners is at the annual meeting. For the vast majority of associations this is in the last quarter of the year or within the first months of the following year. It’s a great time for getting people in to the meetings and getting them to sign up for things; typically, its right after annual meetings when the committee members are being appointed each year.

Lastly, there are common mistakes to avoid in soliciting participation. Not properly vetting people who want to participate is something we see too often. This is not so much screening them but checking to see, number one, if are they able to be committed to the job; there’s nothing worse than when people get on a committee and don’t show up for meetings. Number two, not having clear and precise guidelines available for community participants adds a plethora of headaches HOAs end up having to deal with down the line.

It’s important to gather input from the entire community and see what types of activities and interests homeowners want to pursue. Remember, for a community to truly thrive, everyone should be given an opportunity to participate.