Want to green your HOA? Follow our tips for a smooth process
For those of us who live in communities with a Homeowners Association (HOA), we know that it can be a challenge to jumpstart new community projects. From the initial idea to breaking ground on the project, there are many meetings, conversations and negotiations that have to happen with HOA members.
This is especially true when trying to implement green projects, like installing a RainScape.
If you are thinking of introducing a green project, like a RainScapes, to your HOA, a few basic strategies can go a long way to ensuring a smooth process. And in the end, a RainScape that everyone in a multi-family community can be proud of.
Building a RainScape at the Waterford Condominiums
At The Waterford Condominium complex in Kensington, resident Joyce Koeneman helped oversee the creation of two large rain gardens. After attending a Sacred Grounds workshop (an educational workshop Montgomery County RainScapes Program regularly holds for faith communities) Koeneman took some of what she learned and began to apply it where she lived.
“We discovered all the programs for funding and we worked with the County on the proposals that we presented to the board of directors,” Koeneman said. “We made proposals for rain gardens and permeable paving. The board of directors accepted the rain garden proposal.”
Tip #1: Get educated on the green project first, before bringing it to the HOA. This could mean taking a training or contacting the Department of Environmental Protection for guidance. Become a resource for your fellow community members.
Tip #2: Keep an open mind when talking to the HOA and be ready to present multiple options for how to go green.
Before she learned about RainScapes, Koeneman already chaired a “green team,” which the HOA had started to help with recycling and other efforts around environmental sustainability.
In part because of that team, Koeneman said, green issues already were familiar to HOA leaders and residents. The team also periodically circulated a newsletter with environmental news and tips.
Tip #3: Start a green team at your HOA. The green team can help make “greening” a way a life for your HOA. When big projects are presented to the HOA, like a RainScape, the HOA does not see it as a burden but rather as an extension of their mission.
So in a way, the infrastructure was already in place for what Koeneman said was a key part of the project’s success: effective communication.
“I think it’s important to inform people,” she said. “When the green team began to work with the County on the proposals, it was after a lot of public information things. We did newsletters and open events where people can ask questions.”
Tip #4: Effective communication is vital to getting those who might not support your project to see the benefits. This includes public meetings, presentations, community walks, and open email communication. County staff can help with this communication by answering the more detailed questions.
After applying for a RainScape rebate, County experts then came out to walk the grounds and offer information.
“There are different ways to approach multi-family properties,” said Donna Evans, a planner with the RainScapes program. “Homeowners and private residences within the HOA community can apply individually, and the HOA itself can apply for common spaces, this combination can make a big impact on stormwater management.”
According to Evans, up to $10,000 in rebates are available to an HOA per parcel, while private properties can apply for up to $2,500 in rebates per parcel. By having multiple homeowners and the HOA both installing projects, multi-family communities can make a large positive impact on the environment and save money.
Tip #5: Consider projects that can be scaled to the individual home as well as the HOA. Launching a green project for the HOA property is great, but being able to show how the same project can be done at the home gets twice the bang for the buck. It might even get the HOA on board if they can see how it worked at a smaller scale.
At Waterford, the process took “several years,” Koeneman said, making patience a real virtue. Even so, Waterford residents had plenty of questions.
“How much is it going to cost to maintain and what’s it going to look like?” Koeneman recalled being asked. “And standing water. But if it’s properly planted, that won’t be the case…There was concern about adding moisture to the ground. We’re about 14 stories high. We have a stable foundation, but we’re a concrete building. But we got the questions answered and we got past that.”
Tip #6: Have patience as well as a willingness to answer all the questions (sometimes multiple times!)
By keeping the HOA board of directors and rank-and-file residents in the loop, there were no surprises when the time came for the final decision. The HOA approved the garden project. Now that it is installed, even residents with the most concerns are pleased with both the process and the final outcome.
“I get nothing but positive feedback,” Koeneman said. “They say, ‘hey, those rain gardens look great!’”
Ultimately, even the largest or longest process in a multi-family home starts with simple steps—and can bear considerable fruit.
As Evans advices, “contact your HOA rep, contact the DEP, and start a dialogue.”
By Scott Harris. Contract writer for the Department of Environmental Protection.