How and Why HOAs Work

By Laura Otto
Image Description

More than 74 million Americans living in community associations list maintenance-free, safety, security and cleanliness as top features that make it a popular housing choice. According to results from the 2022 Homeowner Satisfaction Survey, the overwhelming majority (89%) of homeowners and condominium association residents rate their overall experience of living in a community association as “very good.” Additionally, the report shows that 87% of residents are on friendly terms with their governing boards. Nearly three-quarters say their community managers provide value and support to residents and their associations.

Providing Amenities

Associations offer a diverse variety of services and amenities, from golf courses and marinas to equestrian facilities and fitness centers. Very few Americans can afford such benefits without the shared responsibility enabled by common-interest communities. People who don’t want to contend with gutters and yard work can purchase homes in communities where these responsibilities are taken on by the associations. There are age-restricted communities, pet-free and pet-friendly communities, even communities with airstrips. Community associations give people options, alternatives, facilities, and resources they could not otherwise enjoy.

Building a Sense of Community

We are, for better and worse, a highly transient society. Americans follow professional opportunities and other preferences from state to state. By their inherent nature, community associations bring people together, strengthen neighborhood bonds and promote a sense of community and belonging attributes that are often overlooked.

Collective Management

Americans have largely accepted the collective management structure of common-interest communities. The private covenants and rules characteristic of associations are not novel in residential living. Similar restrictions often exist in rental apartment lease agreements and in zoning laws and building codes that govern traditional single-family, detached housing. In traditional housing, however, such restrictions are adopted and administered by municipal governments rather than by the private governing boards composed of homeowners who are elected by their neighbors to lead their associations.

Privatizing Public Functions

Because of the fiscal challenges faced by many municipalities, housing developments are approved with the stipulation that associations will assume many responsibilities that traditionally fall to local and state governments. These obligations can include road maintenance, snow removal, trash pickup and storm water management. This privatization of services allows municipalities to permit the continued development of needed housing without having to pay directly for that infrastructure through the tax base.

Expanding Affordable Homeownership

There has been a persistent effort to increase homeownership in America, especially in underserved groups, such as minorities, women, and immigrants, and in specific locations, such as urban areas. Almost from their inception in the 1960s, condominiums have tended to serve as lower-cost housing, especially for first-time buyers. This was especially true of early condominium conversions, in which apartment buildings were refurbished into condominiums. In today’s economic climate, achieving affordability is a major challenge. Without the construction and operating efficiencies inherent in association development and operations, affordability would be an even greater problem.

Minimizing Costs and Fostering Market Efficiencies

Community associations not only maintain home values but also reduce the need for government oversight. Associations avoid the “tragedy of the commons” (where no one is responsible) through mandatory membership and collective management. They also circumvent the “free rider” issue (where not all beneficiaries pay their share) through mandatory assessments and agreements between the association and the homeowners. Put simply, community associations are an efficient means of providing services, assigning payment responsibility and being responsive to local concerns.

HOAresources.com explores questions and comments from community association members living in condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives. We then assemble trusted experts to provide practical solutions to your most commonly asked, timely questions. We never use real names, but we always tackle real issues. Have a question or comment about your community association? Submit here for consideration:

Get More Expert Advice

Join CAI’s online community for access to the industry’s most in-demand community association resources.

Thousands of your peers are sharing advice.

Laura Otto

Laura Otto is editor of CAI’s award-winning Community Manager. A seasoned journalist, Laura previously worked for a creative, advocacy agency in Washington, D.C., where she wrote and edited content for a variety of public health clients. Prior to that, Laura served as a senior writer and editor for the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Laura is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia.