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The Case for Better Neighborhood Associations

A group of people who are happy. Is this your neighborhood association board? It should be.

You either pay exorbitant amounts of money to it or you have moved to a community on purpose to get away from it. You probably want to get rid of it, especially if you want to tear out your front yard or save for retirement without watching that $300 a month go down the drain. Yet, you might like your neighbors. The National Night Out picnic and block party every year is fun.

I'm talking about the neighborhood association and its related fees.

Neighborhood associations at their root go along with what I consider to be a successful community. They allow neighbors of all stripes and kinds to gather to solve problems, keep areas clean and presentable and provide families and friends with the opportunity to gather.

However, some neighborhood groups are contentious. With the cost of food and gas increasing, it is harder to justify spending money to give to neighbors who fight over what colors should be banned from houses. Also, many neighborhood associations are spending money defending their boundaries and fighting city governments. While this activity is expensive, and can be productive are these legal battles draining the productivity out of your neighborhood?

I'm not sure if this is what happened to my neighborhood, as we have never had one. The adjacent older neighborhood did but, according to a cousin who lived in the neighborhood at the time, the organization was cliquish and slightly discriminatory. Once the clique moved away, the organization died, along with the neighborhood pool the fees maintained. Despite these circumstances, we need to restart this group, with my end of the neighborhood included.

I also believe that neighborhood association funds can be better spent. Take this  example of  neighborhood association fees collected as a giving circle. In this giving circle the minimum payment is agreed upon then put in a hat and saved up, to be redeemed once a quarter for a specific community project. An example quarterly project schedule is below:

  • Winter: Snow and Ice Removal- (If the climate is warm, then dedicate this money to a spring time community garden or holiday decorations)
  • Spring: Community Garden setup
  • Summer: Clean-up of common areas such as parks, pools and neighborhood welcome signs
  • Fall: Fall Festival

Your four projects can be more tailored to your individual community's needs. Also, consider having a fund set aside to pay for lawn care or other emergencies that happen to neighbors.  Even better if the four activities above can be done with sweat equity and all money collected can start a community foundation.

In my neighborhood, I would like for us to re-open the pool, clean up and build a few new neighborhood signs and have an official National Night Out event. We could also partner with the nearby shopping mall, three churches and elementary school for events. Also, we should go past preventing crime and keeping strange children off the streets. We also have a few bus stops that can be adopted through a program our city offers. All need benches and regular upkeep, as they are used by a number of neighbors throughout the day.

So you are now thinking, do I still need to be giving $300 a month to my association. Yes and no. If your association is engaged in greater community building activities such as those mentioned above, yes. You also can reduce that number and still have a good impact. Below are the effects of spending a $1 a month, $5 a month and $300 a month on a community. These numbers are based on a community of 50 homes with fees docked from property taxes and sent back to a neighborhood 501c3 nonprofit organization.

$1 month/$12 per year per neighbor= $600- While a bit small for an emergency fund, this can be split into three $200 parts to give towards a neighborhood boy or girl to clean up the common areas throughout the summer, seeds for a community garden and/or paying the same kids to shovel snow or dedicated to one big national night out party so that neighbors can meet each other and work on building bartering and trusting relationships. Also, if your neighborhood association is brand new, you can dedicate some of this funding to becoming a tax exempt organization.

$5 month/$60 per year=$3000- As you can see, we already have a nice increased sum here. You can pay for tax exemption, put $1500 away for a neighbor in need and then use the other $1500 to work on the community initiatives mentioned above.

$300month/3600 per year=$180,000- So this is the net gain for a $300 month neighborhood association fee. If you only use $1500 for the small community initiatives, you have a nice sized fund to start a community foundation fund for scholarships, medical bills, even small business ventures. This also covers legal fees, but my hope is that you are moving away from litigious activities.

No matter what, your neighborhood needs an association. Cities with less formally defined neighborhoods could start with census tracks. Neighborhoods could merge if there are not enough households to obtain a certain funding level. Even if no money is collected at first, a neighborhood watch will keep neighbors informed of basic needs. Those concerned with privacy should have the option of opting out of the neighborhood association. Renters should also be informed of meeting times and projects and invited to participate, especially if they have resided in the neighborhood longer than some homeowners.

I have mentioned to a few neighbors that I would like to implement the $5 a month model, so we can clean up our neighborhood signs and maybe look into adopting the neighborhood bus stop.

So community developers and neighborhood leaders, what am I missing? What are some solutions in practice to the issues surrounding neighborhood associations? Are you a community who is putting similar practices at work with success? What do we do about corporate owned entities who may be clueless to what the community needs are?