It is curious that when one thinks about making a difference in one’s community, the go-to institutions are local government, civic organizations, schools, and homes. If one were to extend the list, it might include sports programs, arts & cultural groups, fitness, not to mention law enforcement, medicine, transportation, or sanitation.
Lost in the shuffle would be what I consider the most grassroots form of local community representation ever invented: the Homeowners Association. More accountable to their constituents than Congress ever was, more locally based than a Rotary Club, more representative of their constituents than any church or religious organization, the local HOA is by definition right in the community, made up of neighbors, and solely responsive to the needs of the residents.
Now this may break down in larger developments (Montgomery Village, Kentlands, for example) that have the resources to higher staff and provide high-level services. I’m speaking more of the HOA that services 300 homes or less, with budgets of under $10,000, managed only by volunteers from that community. It’s lean, it’s local, and it simply has to stick with concerns from residents themselves.
When we speak of finding equity, of seeking justice, of creating peace, of expressing compassion, of bringing about reconciliation, of implementing shalom, of the kingdom of God on earth . . . why does the local HOA never come up? Shouldn’t this most basic building block of modern urban/suburban living be the first concentric ring of community impact?
I suspect this tiny institution gets shoved to the side due to its notoriously unprofessional and mistake-prone practice of self-government. When any random neighbor whose aptitude for people skills, leadership, problem-solving, or temperance ranges from excellent to non-existent, things can get bad. VERY bad. This institution, along with being the smallest, may also hold the record for most dysfunctional.
But the potential is enormous. With competent leadership, some patience, and a willingness to work as a team, an HOA could transform a development. Think of the potential: recycling practices, equipment sharing, childcare co-op, landscape creativity, food security – the sky is the limit! Sure there is always the outlier, the nay-sayer, the sabotager, eager to tear down any good idea that comes along. But never underestimate the power of a few concerned citizens working together for the common good.
I mention this because several of our GGC leaders are beginning discussions with their local HOAs and partnering with them for small neighborhood projects – and I applaud their efforts. Face it: many national movements started at this very level! May more of our folks become elected boardmembers of these critical governing bodies. What a way to make a difference at home!
So if you’re looking to do some good in your community, if you’re looking to live out your faith in a Great God, if you’re looking to just be kind, start with the HOA. I can’t think of a better place to flesh out one’s ideals. It may not be easy. But I guarantee you it will be significant.