It can seem like the only time a homeowners association listens to their community is when they are upset and ready to revolt. In most cases, this is because community members feel they don’t have a real opinion or a place to voice their concerns. It’s easy for the HOA board to say, “They can talk to us any time,” but there is often a gap between what the board says and how the community feels.
Giving a voice to community members has to go beyond offering lines of communication followed by a failure to respond. Board members have to create an effective form of communication between themselves and the community. Boards can easily communicate with their members by setting rules and ways to properly voice concerns through practices like monthly board meetings, or through an email box specifically set up to address community issues. It is also important for board members to appoint an individual– or a couple of different board members– to keep track of and monitor community member issues. Ensure issues are dealt with by creating a system to put each item on the agenda for the monthly meeting. Board members should address these issues in meetings and respond to the community member letting them know that they have been heard.
Creating boundaries may seem counterintuitive to the goal of serving the community, but it is important to keep these boundaries in place for professionalism and personal well-being. The last thing you want is to work on the same issue for weeks on end and allow it to consume your other obligations. The HOA board members are elected to protect and enhance the entire community. The key to establishing boundaries is letting community members know the board values their input but it’s important to be direct and honest about your time and abilities as a board. Don’t forget to let community members know, however, that you respect their opinions and welcome suggestions.
The more information you communicate to homeowners, the better dialogue and honest feedback you can get from your community. The lack of communication can cause resentment in the community, and at the core people just want to be heard. Most people don’t like the rules, but once they are able to complain a little and express their thoughts and opinions, community members will generally fall in line and adhere to the board’s decision.
Understand that different people communicate in different ways, and we advise that you identify and use the most effective method for your community. An easy way to make sure your community is being reached is to use social media to interact with community members. Creating a Homeowners Association website or Facebook page is a great way to give voice to homeowners, but we should advise that you will need to mediate your social media channels. Homeowners can quickly check Facebook or your website when it’s convenient and add a comment when you post news or event reminders. When community members comment, be sure to reply so they feel their opinion is heard and valued.
Use Surveys Properly
You can also use surveys to give your community members a voice. How2HOA strongly recommends that you use this process sparingly — quarterly or semi-annually at the most. Using a survey can give your community members some security and allow them to give honest feedback about their HOA community. There are also websites that can help you easily create free surveys to send to homeowners. We recommend offering a printed version as well so everyone has a way to respond that they are comfortable with. A good survey question might be: “Which do you feel is most important to improving our community: a larger clubhouse, a new playground, or an increased security presence?” This gives you insight into what most homeowners in your HOA want for their community. Questions you should not put in a survey include whether or not repairs should be done or if your community has a preference on a specific contracting company. These are the responsibilities of the board. You should value their ideas but it is the board’s duty to make final decisions on behalf of the community and its members.
Have Open Meetings
Regularly scheduled board meetings should be open to all. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a closed meeting or executive session for some items such as reviewing vendor bids. It does, however, mean you are giving community members the chance to voice their opinions and ask questions.
Prepare the agenda in advance for every meeting and send it to all community members. If they know you will be discussing next year’s plans for the new pool and they have questions, they can make arrangements to attend.
At the end of each meeting, open the floor for comments for 15 minutes. If someone has a question that can’t be quickly answered, make plans for a board member or members to talk to them in more detail later. Consider having “office hours” windows, when community members can drop by the HOA office or call to voice concerns.
Have a Community Liaison
Designating one board member as a liaison or point of contact makes it easier for community members to voice their opinions. They won’t have to try and figure out which board member to call about which topic. Make sure the liaison can either provide an answer or relay a message to the right person to get an answer.
Bring Community Members Together
If most of the community has never met the members of the HOA board, they don’t think their voices are heard. Hosting neighborhood events and making sure board members attend will help foster a feeling of community. An evening mixer for adults, a family picnic in the summer, or a holiday party in the community center all instill a sense of community. In turn, homeowners will feel more confident they have a voice when they know their board members outside their official duties.
Host a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” night twice a year so the board and residents can meet new homeowners. Creating a sense of belonging will give community members a voice in a non-threatening, informal setting.
Recruit Community Members
Give your community members a voice through committee work. When everything is done by the HOA board, community members soon feel they are out of the loop. The less they feel heard, the less they contribute. Any time there is an opportunity to let others handle a project, actively recruit homeowners. Something as simple as planning the next community event or helping choose a color palette for communal areas can give homeowners a way to contribute their opinions. Choose different people for different committees to ensure a wide range of input from as many people as possible.
Recognize Their Voice
Even if the HOA Board can’t put every suggestion into action, it can recognize each one in some way. Send a thank-you note to each homeowner who offers a suggestion. Publish survey results in the HOA newsletter and on social media. When you do implement a suggestion, give credit to the person who brought it up. If you respond to and appreciate what community members are saying, they will continue to share their voice.