Those types of non-functioning associations face a slew of problems with spiraling effects. For example, some owners may stop paying their assessments. An overtaxed and burned out board may, for a variety of reasons, defer instituting collection actions against those non-paying owners. That situation results in a decrease in available funds to pay for operating expenses and capital projects, which further results in deferred maintenance of the building. In the end, the board, or what semblance of a board exists, is perpetually in crisis mode. That is, it is always putting out the most immediate fires to ensure that the association limps along.

So then, how do we build communities? How do we overcome member apathy? How do we engage members and get them to be active participants in the association? How do we get people to willingly serve on board?

Those are all great questions with no easy answer. I wish that there was a magic formula that could be employed by an association, whether by a property manager or a board or even a concerned member, that would exorcise the demons of apathy and instill a unifying sense of community, but such magic is only an illusion. In truth, community building is an ongoing and difficult endeavor. It is almost, dare we say, Sisyphean. Nay, as the flower children of the 1960s were hopeful for a better future, we too hope for a better community association.

There are numerous ways for an association to build community. Since community associations are comprised of a number of people with a variety of background and experience, what works for some associations may not work for others. Each association will have to experiment and find what works best for their community. For example, association sponsored social events may be useful. I know of condominium associations that organize periodic pot- luck dinners/events. Those types of social gatherings afford owners the opportunity to get to know their neighbors. This can be particularly beneficial in multi-story buildings because owners may never otherwise have an opportunity to meet and spend time with owners who live on different floors. Having personal relationships with your neighbors humanizes each other and helps weave the fabric that holds together close-knit communities. That can help create a sense of “we” when the association faces a significant problem, such as a sudden capital expense that may result in a special assessment.

Another way an association can encourage participation and engender a sense of community is for a board to establish “committees” (or commissions under the General Not For Profit Act). That is, a group of owners who are tasked with investigating or gathering information about a certain topic or situation and who will report their findings to the board. Such groups are only advisory in nature but afford owners the opportunity to have meaningful input in the operation and administration of the association, which can give those owners a real sense of membership in the association.

24 | COMMON INTEREST® • Summer 2019 • A Publication of CAI-Illinois Chapter

All associations, whether of the functioning or non- functioning variety, should strive to excel at effective communication. Communicating regularly with owners, apprising them of what is going on in the association, reinforces the idea that they are part of a community. Such communication should include letting owners know about board decisions, but also should include reminders of what owners should already know. For example, information about snow removal, landscaping, trash pickup, or when the pool opens are all topics about which reminders can be sent out at appropriate times as a courtesy to owners. Also, work schedules for major capital projects should be clearly communicated to owners, and perhaps even multiple times. Additionally, communication can include human interest stories about individual members of the association, which also humanizes one’s neighbors.

Communication can come in a variety of forms, such as formal notices (e.g. meeting notices), newsletters, or informal notices, and can be given through traditional means, such as “snail-mail” or bulletin boards in common areas, or modern technology, such as email or an association website or touchscreen kiosks in common areas. Whatever the manner or method of communication, the purpose is the same. Members of the community need be informed about the happenings of the community to engender and reinforce as sense of community.

Community associations are entities that are bigger than its individual members but require the involvement of those individual members to function effectively. With a little help from our friends and neighbors, i.e. our fellow community members, we can work together to make our community associations great places to live. Also, perhaps we should all dance around like Joe Cocker from time to time to bring some levity to life.

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