In January (2018), our CEO Joanna LaBahn was invited to speak at a seminar designed to inform and equip board members of Home Owners Associations (HOA). As CEO of a commercial landscaping company that has a large portfolio of HOA clients, and as a former California Associations Institute (CAI) San Diego Chapter President (2016) Joanna has had a great deal of experience working with HOAs and the boards that make up the HOA leadership.
One of the things that has been on Joanna’s heart and mind in the past few years has been the ongoing issue of “community” within our associations we represent. She spoke about the history of HOAs in California, and the importance of building and cultivating (and in some cases creating) community within our communities.
She invited feedback from the audience of board members, and one person really stood out in the meeting. Some of the things he (and his team) have implemented in their community are outstanding, and worth noting. I had the privilege of sitting down with him in his home to discuss what they have done to build community in their HOA, and transform their community from an isolated, individualistic, and litigious “group of homes” into a thriving and healthy community of families that truly love where they live.
1. What’s your name and role in your community?
My name is David Foster and I am the President of the Board of Directors for our community.
2. How long have you been involved with your HOA?
3. How long have you lived in your HOA?
4. What made you want to get involved with the board of your HOA?
I had mentioned to our realtor, who resides in the community and was on the Board, that I would be interested in volunteering if a position became available. It did, and I jumped.
5. What does “community” mean to you?
To me community means that we have a common thread that brings us together. As a member of this community, the thread is that we all share the commonality as homeowners in Brookside. We all want our property to increase in value, live in a clean and safe environment and enjoy our families. I see the primary job of the Board is to do its best to see that these basic elements of ownership in this community are realized by each homeowner.
6. What are the primary things you/the board have started to help create “community”?
We have created a number of committees to better manage the issues and needs of the community. The committees that we have built are:
- Neighborhood Watch
Additionally, we have established a number of activities throughout the year to draw the people together and meet their neighbors. The activities are:
- Home of the Month
- Easter Egg Hunt
- Golf Tournament
- Concert on the Green
- Halloween Decorating Contest
- Christmas Decorating Contest
- Visit with Santa.
7. What are the practical steps you/the board took to create an environment that fosters community?
Each of the activities that I have already identified have been well received and attended by our residents. The Board is constantly receiving kudos for the work that we have done in making these activities available. In addition, the Welcome Committee delivers “Welcome Baskets” to all new residents; meeting them and answering any questions or needs they might have.
8. What advice/coaching would you give to an HOA that lacks community?
It begins with the leadership. It takes thinking outside of the box, extra time and work. But aren’t each of our communities worth it? Identifying the variety of interests in the community is key, then trying a variety of approaches to draw the residents into being more participative.
9. How would you advise a fractured community to increase unity and harmony?
Communication is key for fractured communities. We have a monthly newsletter and an up-to-date website. Fractured and disunity within a community is cancerous. The problem or problems causing the fracture need to be identified. Once that has occurred the members of the association must decide that they want an effective smooth-running association that includes all members. Or continue with the fractured association that they are currently living under. If they choose the first, there are a number of hard questions that follow. Are they willing to make a commitment to improve the association? This may require becoming a Board member, working to get votes for an action to recall the existing Board and so on.
10. What’s been the best part of creating an atmosphere of community in your HOA?
The gratification of seeing a vision become reality and then see it achieving more than you imagined. Then being affirmed by the increase in neighborhood involvement.
11. Have you seen other “side-effects” that have been a net positive for your community?
One side-effect is the amount of work that is required by the Board has decreased. Since building the framework we have seen the amount of time and work requirements decline. But the most positive side effect has been the positive endorsements that each of the Board members have received from residents throughout the community.
Why did you move into an HOA? Sure, part of it is that you don’t have to deal with “bad” neighbors, be concerned with landscaping, or other maintenance related issues… But isn’t part of the reason because you wanted to live in a community of people who have common goals regarding their family, community, and homes? What can you do to build more community in your association?
Or maybe, you’re already doing it! Share your community building ideas in the comments and let us know what you are doing to help promote healthy communities!
Director of Business Development, LaBahn’s Landscaping