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Social capital is simply the positive product of human interaction. The Joint Economic Committee calls it “the connective tissue that facilitates cooperation.” Improving relationships builds trust and respect among community members, which in turn allows for increased social support and empowers people to participate in their society. This creates a more functional environment and improves social sustainability. There is no one way to build social capital in a community. It involves community members feeling like they belong and are a part of the decision-making process. (Source)


Proper governance is the basis for any Improving social capital allows for greater social support, integration, and cohesion. When people have regular casual interactions with each other, they can more easily learn about and access resources available in the community. When they feel more connected to each other, they are more likely to look out for one another’s safety. When people have trust in their community members they can more easily resolve conflicts and move to solutions that make more people happy. When people feel involved in community projects, they are less likely to oppose to them or feel deterred by delays and high cost.

There is much evidence for the positive impacts of social capital. By increasing social capital, organizations can directly and indirectly improve economic mobility and growth rates, health outcomes, levels of crime, community governance, pro-environmental behavior, and life satisfaction. This represents the same value as a five-fold increase in household income. (Source) (Source) (Source)

Pillars of Community Well-Being

A flourishing community is often described as “more than the sum of its parts. ” A healthy community is spans from the individuals, to the relationships between those individuals, to the way the community functions and much more. As you can see below, there are six main pillars that are the established measures of subjective community well-being. (Source)

Healthy Practices

Flourishing Individuals

Proficient Leadership

Good Relationships

Strong Mission

Satisfying Community

Healthy Practices

The community has to have practices and structures like conflict resolution that keep the community functioning. (See more)

Flourishing Individuals

Communal well-being extends beyond but is composed of the combined well-being of its members.

Proficient Leadership

Competent and caring leadership can completely change a community and is a necessary ingredient for change (Source).

Good Relationships

A thriving community will be one where each person contributes to the well-being of others and where each person is respected and trusted.

Strong Mission

A good community should be fulfilling its purpose. HOAs tend to exist to improve the lives of residents, but what that means specifically should be determined by and communicated with residents.

Satisfying Community

The community itself should ideally be satisfying to be a part of. Each person should have a sense of welcome and belonging in the community.


It is difficult to improve what you do not measure. This is true for subjective measures of sustainability and well-being, like sense of belonging, as well as objective ones, like water-use and air quality. Tracking community-determined indicators of well-being enables leaders to base their decisions on what the community wants. It also allows the community to evaluate those decisions based on their desired outcomes.

Subjective Measures

The best way to evaluate how people feel about their community is by asking them. The simplest way to get structured feedback on the state of the community is a survey. It’s recommended to use a mix of numerical and non-numerical measures, like a rating (from 1-10, for example) system and a space to ask open-ended questions, like “How could the association improve [an aspect of the community]?” Creating a quality survey is a delicate balance between making it robust enough to get adequate understanding of the community and making it short enough that people aren’t turned away by how long it takes to complete.

Group and/or individual interviews get more robust answers and make community members feel more involved, but take more time to conduct and analyze responses. The length and depth of the engagement should be based on the community’s capacity.

Evaluation of Neighborhood Environment and Assets

One important aspect of gauging community satisfaction in an HOA is assessing how people feel about community assets and environment. This tells association leaders what residents feel is most important to maintain as well as what can be improved, added, or removed. These can be found through surveys and interviews, but they are better understood through approaches like conversational walkthroughs of the community, PhotoVoice, which is a tool that uses community photos to respond to prompts, and Asset Mapping (Source).

The WELL building standard promotes the health and well-being of individuals in buildings through building design, operations, and policies. It provides guidelines for improving aspects of buildings across 10 different focus areas, such as air-quality, mental and physical health, and use of hazardous materials. You can also find a list of indicators of community health and well-being residents can evaluate here.


Unless associations meaningfully respond to the feedback, residents will not feel involved and instead feel ignored. This is why it is important to gather non-numerical information to contextualize the numerical data and help craft plans moving forward.

Identify trends in responses

Trends in responses can be easy or hard to discern depending on how cohesive residents’ values and priorities for the association are. Find out what the majority of people want the association to focus on, but don’t ignore the minority as they will have to live with your results too.

Present findings to residents

Present the trends you’ve found to the community, either at an annual meeting or in a regular communication like a newsletter. If there are any obvious conclusions or next steps to take, explain what you are doing to take them.

Incorporate feedback into decision-making

This can be the most difficult part of obtaining feedback — incorporating it into decisions. This is why it is important to ask for solutions and priorities, so that decisions can be tied directly to the desires of the community.

If there’s low ratings of…

Healthy Practices

…the HOA might want to adjust its policies or Governing Documents to make sure healthy practices are in place

Satisfying Community

…the association should work to become a more welcoming place, possibly by improving inclusion & accessibility policies

Good Relationships

…the HOA might want to offer more diverse social events where residents can get to know each other in a relaxed environment

Proficient Leadership

…the association leadership should undergo training of some sort, perhaps practical or ethical

Florishing Individuals

…the HOA might want to tap into resources to offer substantial assistance to owners, like child support programs or mortgage assistance

Strong Mission

…the HOA should use owner feedback to develop the association’s mission, communicate it, and work it into their practices


Here are some major factors to consider to build strong association practices.


Building community starts and ends with communication. It doesn’t matter what you are saying or doing if no one is hearing you. Keeping residents up to date on association news and decisions is vital to make sure that residents feel connected to the community and any decisions the association makes. It is necessary for gaining consensus on major projects so residents understand the importance of the project and don’t just see the price tag. It’s recommended to utilize a variety of communication methods and also collect information on the best mode of communication for contacting residents for emergency and non- emergency reasons.


Building community starts and ends with communication. It doesn’t matter what you are saying or doing if no one is hearing you. Keeping residents up to date on association news and decisions is vital to make sure that residents feel connected to the community and any decisions the association makes. It is necessary for gaining consensus on major projects so residents understand the importance of the project and don’t just see the price tag. It’s recommended to utilize a variety of communication methods and also collect information on the best mode of communication for contacting residents for emergency and non- emergency reasons.


People can only make good decisions if they know the effects of those decisions. Hosting regular informational meetings can be just as important as action meetings if the information is relevant and conveyed meaningfully to residents. The most effective educational efforts are site-specific and immediately relevant; however, there are plenty of other ways to make sure community members are equipped to make informed decisions.


Community programs come in various forms, from monetary and resource donations meant to help neighbors navigate life (Community Assistance), to redesigning common areas to be community-oriented (Placemaking), to gatherings meant to bring neighbors together (Events). Associations should use community feedback to determine which of these can best turn their neighborhood into a community.

Action Steps

Strategies for improving community are as varied as communities themselves and will depend heavily on what the community needs. For example, if people feel that not everyone is adequately welcomed to the community, the community could enhance the welcome information packet or implement a welcome committee. Conversely, if residents are often worrying about safety, food, or housing, something like a neighborhood assistance fund might be more appropriate.

Here is a compilation of all recommendations to boost community well-being and social capital. Choose recommendations based on residents’ needs and leadership’s capacity.

Incorporate Resident Feedback into Decision Making

1. Conduct a periodic survey
  • Administer the survey, ensuring it is confidential and offered in different formats (paper, digital) and potentially different languages to improve response rate
  • Include at least 1 community well-being indicator from each pillar
  • Include evaluation questions on association assets and environment
  • More information here and here
2. Review and consolidating the survey results
  • Identify trends in association satisfaction and locate the biggest pain points, but also biggest assets and areas of community satisfaction
  • BOD or outside professional (if possible) conduct analysis
3. Incorporate feedback into tentative Strategic Plan
  • Try to determine community priorities in the short-term (within the year), medium-term (1-4 years) , and long-term (5+ years)
  • Share survey results and tentative plan with community, likely at annual meeting or other established communication method (See ‘Communication Action Steps’ below)
  • Amend plans based on community response and feedback
  • This step may need to be repeated based on volume of association pushback
5. Amend necessary bylaws
  • Amend bylaws or other governing documents that may be needed to implement action plan (e.g. changing meeting time/location, allowing more/less board members, creating a committee, etc.)
6. Administer survey periodically
  • Use previous surveys as a baseline to understand whether community well-being and satisfaction is improving and where it could still use help

Other ways to gather community feedback

  • Interviews are simply conversations with a purpose. They can be in-person or over the phone, one-on-one or in groups.
  • Ask the same questions as in a survey, but in a more open-ended way. This can add much needed context to survey data and allow residents to talk about what is most important to them.
  • Small associations may want to forego surveys for interviews, but they are time consuming, so they are not well suited to large associations with limited resources.
  • Learn more
Walk and Talks
  • Walk & Talks are interviews or meetings on the move. Lead a walk through the association, reflexively inquiring about how residents interact with the neighborhood.
  • These record residents’ impressions, thoughts, and narratives of the neighborhood’s built environment in real time. This helps residents put the experience of living in the association in context.
  • Walking meetings are shown to increase creativity and cognitive engagement in meeting participants.
  • Learn more and a scientific example
  • PhotoVoice is a way for residents to contextualize their experiences living in their community. Through pictures and captions, residents capture their lives from their point of view.
  • How to guidePhotoVoice organization
Asset Mapping

More Resources

  • This guide by the Community Tookbox details the need for developing a plan to assess local needs and resources, as well as how to carry those plans to fruition
  • A handbook with many ideas for uniquely engaging communities to generate ideas and innovation, especially as a way to help people feel liberated, rather than constrained
  • This handout outlines and organizes many facilitation techniques (including those mentioned in “Engaging Everyone”) in an easy-to-understand table.
  • This guide by the National Recreation and Parks Association outlines many of the techniques mentioned here, including internal assessments, building trust, community engagement, and evaluation, specifically around improving parks and similar public areas.


Welcome committee/packet
  • Making sure that new residents feel welcome in the community and understand association rules, guidelines, and responsibilities can stop resident resentment and violations before they start.
  • A welcome packet should include, among other association-specific items: A welcome letter; an outline of owner vs. association responsibilities; important contact information for board members, management company, utility and other service providers; and ways residents can get involved. Consider including a small gift or other token of appreciation.
  • Using a welcome committee to deliver this packet and gift by hand is a good way to put a face to the community and allows residents to ask questions.
  • Learn more Learn more
  • A newsletter is a regular report that keeps residents up-to-date on association plans and events. It helps develop a sense of community identity and recognize residents who are stars in the community.
  • More information and template
  • An association website can automate and streamline BOD and manager tasks. It can help process payments, host news, send notices, store member directories, and more.
  • Learn more Examples
Social Media
  • Social media can help get messages out where people will see them. There are many pros and cons to having an association social media page, so make sure you understand what it takes to maintain one before starting.
  • Learn more
Bulletin Board/Display Screen
  • Bulletin boards are a low-tech option to allow the community itself to generate communications. Make sure there are clear rules on what can be posted and how long it can stay up. A display screen can act as a digital bulletin board.
  • Tips Example Bulletin Board Rules
Community-Wide Letter
  • For the most important communications, a letter (and corresponding email) is the best way to go. Make sure to be concise and be clear about what you want from the residents.
  • More information and templates


Find a day & time that works best for the community
  • Gather information from residents on their preferred days & times for meetings, or have them pick their preferred time from a set of choices.
  • Either way, pick the time that most people are available to have the most important meetings.
Host hybrid meetings
  • Having meetings in a hybrid model (both in-person and virtual), allows for the most participation. Those unable to attend in-person for logistical or health reasons can still participate, and those with limited digital access or understanding can as well.
  • Learn more
Start with a check-in
  • Starting meetings with a check-in fosters a sense of psychological safety, reduces cognitive demand, and primes meeting members to contribute
  • Learn more
Send an agenda beforehand and follow up meeting notes
  • Sending meeting agendas to residents at least one week in advance lets them know if something they care about will be discussed and gives them time to prepare in advance.
  • Sending meeting notes to residents after the meeting allows people who are unable to attend to stay up to date on decisions.
  • Even if association leaders believe no one will attend a meeting, the BOD should still post meeting agendas and notes to prevent accusations of lack of transparency.
  • Meeting agenda templates
  • Learn more about meeting notes

More Resources

  • Includes: planning, running, following up, and handling difficult members in a meeting


Host regular informational events
  • Informational meetings equip community members to be informed about projects and other community well-being decisions.
  • The most effective educational efforts are site-specific and immediately relevant. There is typically high demand for workshops where residents can receive site-specific management recommendations from local experts.
  • Local colleges, government agencies, unions and Chambers of Commerce are good places to start finding experts to talk to the association, but you can also source experts from the association itself.
  • Learn more Find local experts
  • When all else fails, bring experts from around the world to your association using Ted Talks


Community assistance comes in two forms: internal and external. External assistance comes from outside organizations, usually in the form of monetary assistance, like grants and rebates. They are typically reserved for marginalized communities and households, and potentially intensive part of the process will involve proving eligibility (See Community Toolbox’s “Applying for a Grant“). Internal assistance comes from within the community, typically in the form of direct services and resources. Both can be important depending on context.

External Assistance

  • HAF is a federal program to help impoverished homeowners make mortgage payments and pay HOA assessments. Qualified households must have incomes less than 150% of the area median income and have suffered a financial hardship after January 21, 2020.
  • Qualified households in Colorado can be awarded up to $40,000.
  • Learn more
  • OCS helps communities deal with hardships related to housing, health care, child care & economic development.
  • Learn more here to find offered services near your community.
  • CDHS assists community members in accessing benefits such as food, disability services, and employment.
  • Learn more
Denver Community Support Mini Grants
  • Grants between $500-$10,000 for projects to strengthen community, create a stronger and more connected neighborhood, and address needs in Denver’s most vulnerable areas.
  • Learn more
Denver Public Library Community Assistance Resources
  • Denver Public Library maintains an extensive list of resources including substance abuse/treatment, food/nutrition, sign language/hearing impaired.
  • All available to Denver residents, many available to all Colorado residents.
  • Resource List

Internal Assistance

Mutual Aid
Time Banking / Community Currency
  • Time banking is a formalized form of mutual aid, which let’s members earn time credits by volunteering their services. These time credits can then be exchanged for assistance from other time bank members.
  • Learn more Start a time bank


Placemaking is a collaborative process by which residents shape public spaces in order to maximize shared value. It is a form a people-centric design that re-imagines public spaces like parks and streets as places to “create beauty and delight, engender civic pride, connect neighborhoods, support community health and safety, grow social justice, catalyze economic development, promote environmental sustainability, and of course nurture an authentic sense of place” according to an MIT report. One way to think of placemaking is the Power of 10+, which is built on the idea that that places thrive when residents have a range of reasons (10+) to be there. Placemaking in action.

Commnity Art Projects
Community Garden
Decoration contests
  • A decoration contest is a seasonal way to inspire and reward your residents’ creativity. Even a condominium association can host a door decoration contest
  • Example Rules
Yard/Concrete Games
  • Setting up yard or concrete games is a great way to attract residents to your HOA common areas. Games like giant Jenga, cornhole, or ping pong get your residents outside and remind them that your association is a fun place to live.
  • Yard game ideas Concrete games ideas
Miniature Library
  • “Take a book, leave a book” miniature libraries are growing in popularity. They provide a way for people to share resources and knowledge without even interacting.
  • Learn more on starting or finding one near you
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, many places turned parking spaces into places designed for people, originally only temporarily. However, some of these places became so popular, the transformation became permanent. This is a viable form of placemaking if your association has an abundance of parking compared to parks or other public spaces.
  • Learn more

More Resources

The Pop-Up Placemaking Tool Kit
  • This resource by AARP provides community leaders with beginner, intermediate and advanced ideas for community placemaking
  • This guide by Michigan State University outlines the research and process that leads to quality placemaking.


Events allow community members to come together so they can see who HOA rules will actually affect. They are a great way for neighbors to meet and have fun together.

Welcome Party
  • To make your association a welcoming and accepting place, you can throw a welcome party for new residents. This is a time to celebrate and introduce new residents to all the people that make up your community.
  • Learn more
  • Potlucks allow for residents to come together, exhibit their culture, and get fed without the association having to provide anything except a location (and perhaps dishes, utensils etc.)
  • How to Step by step guide
Swap Meet
  • Regular swap meets help residents de-clutter their homes, reduce items sent to landfill, as well as bring neighbors together.
  • Learn more
Fundraising or Volunteer Community Event
  • Events like donation drives, fundraising galas, and charity concerts make residents feel good about living in the community, and helps a good cause.
  • Service days, like a trash clean-up or volunteering at a soup kitchen, is a no- cost option that can have a similar effect for residents with time to spare.
  • Learn more
Nature Days
  • Nature deficit disorder affects kids and adults who do not have adequate access to nature and affects many urban communities. Alleviate this by organizing events for residents to visit nearby natural parks and wilderness

General Community Resources

  • The community toolbox details everything about organizing a community of action including “assessing community needs and resources, addressing social determinants of health, engaging stakeholders, action planning, building leadership, improving cultural competency, planning an evaluation, and sustaining your efforts over time.”
  • This tool provides county-specific data on health indicators and offers roadmaps for how to utilize health interventions like reducing drug and alcohol abuse, access to health care, improving air and water quality, and preventing crime.
  • This guide by Michigan State University is full of ideas for individuals and associations to build community. The bottom of the page linked also has contacts for organizations who help improve community health.

Book Recommendations: Understanding Sustainability

Each of our resource pages is only a broad overview and simplification of their corresponding facet of HOA sustainability. To get more in-depth information, either as an individual or as a part of a book club, we recommend these books below.