Freelance photographer Jocelyn A. lives in a charming, post-war brick townhouse community of over 1,600 units and a $3 million annual budget. She receives a monthly newsletter with over 20 pages of everything to keep residents informed, but says, “Sometimes I don’t even open it… what with my travel schedule and work commitments.”
Jocelyn admits that she seldom attends an annual meeting or election, although she has occasionally sent in a proxy vote. “I always have the intent to participate,” she insists, “but because of my other commitments, I’m really kind of disengaged.” When she has attended a monthly board meeting, or the annual meeting, she was disappointed—the atmosphere didn’t feel inclusive. “It was kind of a turn-off, dealing with this whole political thing,” she notes. “And, it seems like [the board] is an older crowd.”
Getting younger people, and those raising families, more directly involved with the issues that impact them is an ongoing challenge for many organizations, from clubs to local government. Community associations almost always require a majority of unit owners to meet a quorum and conduct the meeting and election that they’re mandated to complete, so boards and managers are obligated find ways to maintain—and increase—participation.
“I've had many buildings, especially the smaller ones, where they don't have the time and they don't want to do it. I really salute board members because they're working for free,” says attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, principal of the New York-based real estate law firm Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. “Your neighbors are bothering you all the time on things that are really minute and a lot times crazy. It really is a community service in doing it. At the same time, it is rewarding, you're helping your building.”
Technology Outpaces Association Docs
It's not a surprise to most people who have participated in an association election before that turnout can be an issue. While there are more than a few communities that run heated, fully-engaged elections, most communities struggle to get people to come out to vote at all. Electronic voting, as on a website, makes the election process easier. “Electronic voting is really the latest thing that they're trying to get people to vote with,” says Scott McKeel, president of the online Vote HOA Now, an electronic voting service based in Portland, Oregon. “They can get a quick response time as opposed to mailing it out and waiting to get them back.”