Building Community – A Crash Course For Managers

Posted on March 28, 2016 by Jessica Meeker

Written by: Danielle Holley, Community Associations Institute – Rocky Mountain Chapter Volunteer

Featured in: Colorado Real Estate Journal

Communities are funny things. Most people want to be part of one and are seeking one. Occasional people build them. But in multifamily-land, residents are already part of a community. Just by living in an apartment, condominium or high rise building, they have placed themselves in a community.

The people in a multifamily community share basic things: mutual amenities, proximity to desirable locations, similar income capabilities, they do or do not prefer animals in their neighborhood, they may be of a specific age, etc. They may also share more specific connections. The problem we are running into today, is that the members of our neighborhoods are rarely discovering if the easiest community they’re already part of is a community they want to develop.

Working in the multifamily industry, we hear people say all the time, “We need to build more community.” Why foster this abstract thing – don’t we have enough friends? The short answer: it makes the residents more fulfilled, the manager’s life easier and the property those residents live in more valuable. When people care about their community, they are happier, healthier, safer and tend to stick around.

But how? But when? But who’s going to do it? Well, I’ll tell you how I’ll tell you when and I’ll tell you who. You start small, you start now, and you take the time to cultivate community leaders everywhere you find them. Building community starts wherever it can, but it’s not without obstacles. Managers in this industry already have lots on their plate, but taking the time to help instill a sense of community in the places you work will make your job easier in the long run – you might even enjoy it more too.

According to Amy Sample Ward, a speaker and author specializing in online communities and social action, there are five core principals to building community. All five principals translate into the multifamily arena:

  1. Focus on shared goals and ownership.  
    • The point she makes is that you need to identify what resonates both with your organization and the community of people you want to engage. When those goals overlap, you have a sweet spot that will appeal to the most people and draw in participation. An example is transforming a local greenspace into a play park. If the board and/or management think it’s a great idea, but there are only a few families in the community, the idea may not be the participation generator the board was hoping for. If both groups see the need and have a want, go for it!
  2. Transparency. 
    • We have all been there. Thinking it’s a good idea to keep a project quiet until you are ready for the big reveal only to have disgruntled residents and owners point out what they don’t like about it. People like to feel involved. Transparency – wherever possible – fosters a sense of trust and buy-in from the people in your community. The way Amy puts it: “It’s like the golden rule for community engagement.” Treat your community members the way you would want them to treat you.
  3. Go where the people are.
    • If people are at the dog park, go engage them at the dog park. If they’re at the pool, consider handing out flyers there. If you have no amenities, wait by the mailboxes and invite them to a happy hour or meet n’ greet at a nearby restaurant. The point is to start small and focus on face to face interaction. At the very least, you will develop a rapport with the people you see and they will be more likely to attend the next event they’re invited to.
    • If you build it, they still might not come. Working to build a sense of community takes time and effort. You need to reach out to the residents and the easiest way to do that is by going to them. How many times have you had an open meeting, looked around, and heard commentary on how few community members were present?
  4. Cultivate leaders. 
    • She goes on to discuss how it feels counterintuitive to train others to replace you, but you definitely need to. Many studies on leadership note that the highest level of leadership is training someone to replace you. This may take some practice. Use positive reinforcement, encourage others to take on projects and be transparent about how you’re going about things so that others know they may take the reins.
    • Ms. Ward puts it better than I ever could, “Leadership development is incredibly important. You don’t actually want to be the one maintaining the engagement forever – if the community can take over your role, it’s a sign it’s not just sustainable but thriving!”
  5. Know your community.
    • At the end of the day, fostering community is about knowing the people in the community, making mutual connections and feeling a sense of ownership. As the manager, you should have a better idea than most about who is in your community and where you might be able to start. Work with colleagues and volunteers to achieve something that will matter to the whole neighborhood once or twice a year. Remember step one. If the whole community has a shared goal, you will find an organic place to start building.

As you spend time working towards your goals, remember why you’re doing it. Homeowners associations with satisfied residents see property values go up, are rated as better places to live and managers find that their workloads go down. Apartments with satisfied and loyal residents see resident turnover go down and occupancy rates go up. There is a large amount of value here that is hard to specifically quantify, but if you talk to a manager who has been around for a while, they’ll tell you that you have hit the management jackpot if you manage a happy community.



2015 Fitz, Lyon, Driskell. “Why People Like Where They Live”