National and state offices draw a lot of attention, but we cannot overlook the importance of positions at the local level and the direct influence they have on communities. The purpose of The Policy Circle Engagement Guides is to provide context and resources related to local level engagement opportunities, so you can have a say in what’s happening in your community, be an informed community member, and build your network and social fabric. This guide focuses on neighborhood associations, their role in the community, and what to consider if you are interested in being involved.
What are Neighborhood Associations
Neighborhood associations are groups of residents who regularly meet to accomplish specific goals in their communities. Members include homeowners, renters, business owners, school faculty, religious institution officials, and members of local community organizations. The goal of a neighborhood association is to identify challenges and concerns among residents, to “support change and improvement efforts, help resolve conflicts, provide volunteers for community initiatives, represent the neighborhood as a whole to elated officials and find resources to make the neighborhood a better place to live.”
- Help neighbors get to know each other and build community
- Plan and host special events and social activities
- Discuss neighborhood concerns and find solutions
- Empower residents to represent the collective interests of the community
- Make physical improvements in the neighborhood
- Effectively communicate with public officials and other local groups
The first step to forming a neighborhood association is determining if there is enough interest to start one. If there is, interested residents can form a steering committee to consider the purpose of the association, its bylaws, and the boundaries of the neighborhood. Once these proposals are made, the committee can reach out to the neighborhood to host a meeting where residents can share concerns, come to a consensus on the boundaries and bylaws, and help develop a neighborhood plan. This includes addressing the particular concerns of residents and establishing various committees to address different problems, such as a crime reduction committee or a green spaces committee.
Once decided, the association can register with the neighborhood or city information center to be put in the neighborhood database. This is not necessary, but it does list the association as the official representative of the neighborhood, allows for direct communication with public agencies, and allows meetings and events to be added to the city’s calendar or events page.
A neighborhood association is not the same as a homeowners association (HOA). HOAs are formal legal entities that are “created to maintain common areas and enforce private deed restrictions.” Most HOAs impose mandatory fees that pay for care for public spaces, as well as rules on what can be done with the exterior of homes. Whereas membership in neighborhood associations is voluntary, property owners in a defined area are required to belong to the HOA and are subject to its rules.
Why it Matters
Strong neighborhoods and communities have long been central components of American life, and a community’s well-being is related to that of its residents. Local business owners, members of the city council, school faculty, and residents all play an important role in the future of their neighborhoods. Neighborhood associations are a means through which community members can actively engage with one another and provide their communities with beauty, prosperity, and human connectedness. See The Policy Circle’s Stitching the Fabric of Neighborhoods Brief for more on how community engagement and government intervention develop and change neighborhoods.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What needle do you want to move in your community – budget and taxes, education, infrastructure and utilities, healthcare, planning and zoning?
- What’s your background/experience? What are your skills? Is your LinkedIn profile up to date?
- How much time do you have to give?
Where to Start
- Does a neighborhood association already exist?
- If so, what are its boundaries? If not, what would those boundaries be?
- Do you know the state of social infrastructure (physical places that allow bonds to develop, such as cafes, libraries, and parks) in your community or state?
- Does a neighborhood association already exist?
- Who runs your city’s or neighborhood’s information center
- Who is actively involved in the neighborhood and community?
- How involved are local public officials?
- Who are the contacts at the Community Development Office in your area, or the contacts at your local Chamber of Commerce?
- Reach out: Find allies and build community networks.
- Talk to community members from school faculty to small business owners to see their visions and understand their concerns.
- Consider organizing a community meeting, distributing flyers, or going door-to-door.
- Plan: Set milestones, don’t try to do it all at once.
- Find out if there is enough interest among community members.
- Meet with city or neighborhood information center staff to discuss proposed boundaries and bylaws.
- Introduce the idea to residents to get feedback.
- Register with the city or neighborhood information center.
- Plan to write an opinion piece in your local paper or share remarks at a local meeting.
- Consider organizing a steering committee to establish the purpose and boundaries of the association.
- Host a meeting where neighbors can share concerns.
- Attend regular meetings or events held by the neighborhood association if one already exists.
- Consider volunteering for activities, or even becoming a registered member.