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The Ice Cream Truck Scourge: I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at our California Desert division’s annual director seminar. It was a wonderful success, and the clients in attendance seemed highly engaged and appreciative of the event.
During preparations for my presentation, I was browsing through various articles in my files and came upon an email forwarded from an industry friend that she received from a homeowner. It was so humorous, yet disturbing, I kept it for posterity. The email went something like this:
“Margo, I find it totally unacceptable that every afternoon I have to listen to the ice cream truck driving around our neighborhood. I moved into a gated community to escape ‘The Ice Cream Trucks of the World.’ I insist that you stop them immediately.”
What? Really? When did ice cream trucks become a metaphor for all things that are bad things in this world? I remember quite fondly from my youth the sound of the ice cream truck as it approached every afternoon. A world of limitless deliciousness heading straight towards me! What could be better than than?
Is this homeowner’s sentiment a symptom of a larger issue? I think it is.
My keynote address spoke of community associations as ecosystems. Ecosystems’ are closed systems that sustain themselves through the interdependent relationships of its members. Think of a forest or the ocean- each member contributes to the overall health of the group. Ecosystems are threatened only when external influences are introduced into it. Just ask the dinosaurs, or our climate for that matter.
Obviously, community associations can never be fully closed systems, as our homeowners introduce external influences into them every day. Those influences are the social, physical and cultural changes that our world has been experiencing for decades now. Space limitations do not allow me to explore each of those changes here, but I believe this confluence of forces has resulted in the long term decline in social capital in our communities and the world around us. One need only to listen to the tone of the current presidential campaign to see that civility has become a rare commodity these days. Social capital is characterized by trust, engagement, reciprocity and mutual respect among neighbors and in society. In the thirty years I’ve been in the community management industry, it seems to me that the fundamentals of what we do has not changed in all those years, yet the business is harder than ever. I suspect if you have been in this business for any period of time, you feel the same.
I share with the conference attendees the following model used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to analyze and predict behaviors.
Called the Social-Ecological Model of Health, it explores the characteristics of the individual (age, race, education, income), relationships (peers, family, social circles), community (physical surroundings of workplace, school, neighborhoods) and society (social norms, laws, policies) to predict behavior and long term physical and mental health. Note that these are overlapping, not concentric, circles. This speaks to the fact that each of these four factors influences the others.
In my presentation, I asked the simple questions of our clients as to where they believe the community association falls among these four overlapping circles. The answer is ALL of them. The communities that we manage affect the individuals, their neighbors and peers, the physical setting in which interactions occur and creates and influences policies and social norms not just for its own sake, but the larger society as well.
If our homeowners are bringing into our communities all sorts of external influences, then we (and our clients) need to understand our role in counteracting those influences through the policies, tone, style and programs/practices of our communities. Acknowledging that everything about the community association touches every aspect of the social-ecological model necessitates a new thinking in how we mange them. If we believe that our and the association’s mission is merely to enforce the CCR’s, then we need to aim higher.
Our mission should be- NEEDS to be – the cultivation of social capital within our communities. In every action we take, and every policy we make, consideration needs to be given to its impact to the overall trust, engagement, reciprocity and mutual respect of/for/among our community members.
If we are successful in reestablishing such social capital in our communities, the very nature of them will change. Not only will there be a positive change to practical issues such as compliance matters, but the communities themselves will begin to enjoy a very different sort of vitality.
Let that be our mission.
-Bill Sasser, President & CEO of The Management Trust
California has some of the most expensive housing in the country. In the article, Why California is so expensive: It’s not just the weather, it’s the regulation, the author defines the situation with a financial view. Our very own CCAM Division President, Brent Kocal, gave us his insight and take on the article: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2016/07/07/why-california-is-so-expensive-its-not-just-the-weather-its-the-regulation/
“This article demonstrates the classic macroeconomics of supply and demand. Governmental restrictions on new development choke supply in the most desirable areas where demand is the highest. The result is higher market value for homes in those areas. I think a couple of things will happen as a result of increased regulation. The first is that home builders will have to push further and further out from city centers to build single family homes in commutable cities starving for economic growth. Those cities will likely see home building and development fees as hitting the jackpot. The second thing that’s going to happen is that more people will choose to live closer to city centers in more condensed housing units. This will increase demand from homebuyers for homebuilders to develop significant common amenities into their city center developments.
Both of those results play well into homeowners’ associations. Cities further out will want the development cash cow to be as fat as possible and will require homebuilders to install infrastructure and parks that will require owners’ association’s to maintain. Developments closer to city centers will have common building maintenance responsibilities in addition to the common amenities.” – Brent Kocal, CCAM Division President
Boards need to be in touch with residents. They need a sense of association members’ opinions and priorities when making decisions for the entire community. Surveys are an excellent way to obtain feedback on specific subjects and sample general attitudes of community residents. Boards that seek out and seriously consider resident’s opinions will likely foster a stronger sense of community, reduce violations and resident complaints, and generally find that residents support their efforts.
Conducting a community survey might reveal unknown problems or negative attitudes, but boards should never be reluctant to undertake surveys for these reasons. On the contrary, boards have a responsibility to recognize and rectify problems and address the sources of negative attitudes. Of course, the opposite is also true: surveys can confirm that the board is on the right track, provide support for difficult decisions, and demonstrate a board’s due diligence and sound business judgment.
Boards might also be reluctant to conduct surveys because they feel that the results constitute a mandate. However, surveys are not votes! Board members should remember that the information they collect is intended to help them make decisions, set priorities, and identify issues. Boards won’t always be able to respond to every issue raised in a survey; but, they will at least be aware of it, and they can factor it into their decision making. Residents will understand the information-gathering nature of a survey if it includes a cover letter from the board explaining the surveying process and purpose.
Survey results are an expression of attitudes on specific subjects at one point in time. Therefore, conducting surveys should be a regular–but not excessive-activity in any association. The value of a survey’s results is related to the level and breadth of participation by residents. Conducting surveys periodically demonstrates to residents and members the value of their views and accustoms residents to sharing those views.
There is no perfect research design, and associations need not worry about getting it perfect. Begin modestly with simple surveys on non-critical issues until the volunteer leaders and members become more familiar with the process. Boards and managers alike will become more comfortable with the process as they get underway.
It is with this challenge in mind that Community Associations Institute (CAI) developed Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities. Rights and Responsibilities can serve as an important guidepost for all those involved in the community—board and committee members, community managers, homeowners and non-owner residents.
Homeowners Have the Right To:
Homeowners Have the Responsibility To:
So what do you think? Are there any that should be added to this list? Let us know below!
We are touched and pleased to announce that the California Association of Community Managers (CACM) has created an educational scholarship in honor of our late COO, Mr. Dan Kocal.
The Dan Kocal Scholarship will be used to help community managers in California obtain their industry credentials and certification. Read more about it, and about Dan's legacy, in the current edition of Vision
Inspiring each other to take ownership of our potential.
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