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Guidelines for Organizing Neighborhood Associations
The makeup of a city neighborhood is shaped by many factors: its age, the kinds of people who live there, the nature of its original development, the ratio of children to adults and much more. There is no easy way to say what makes a great neighborhood. Ultimately, satisfaction is determined by preferences that vary with each individual. Nevertheless, many would agree that some common factors are usually present in a neighborhood that seems to work.
- In successful neighborhoods, residents have confidence in their own safety; in the value of their property; and in the sense that, in general, things are getting better, not worse.
- A neighborhood needs on-going reinvestment – not just on big projects, but in continuous maintenance and improvements by all property owners.
- Neighborhoods that work are characterized by residents and business owners who share enthusiasm and an attitude of cooperation.
- Gradual change, not dramatic change, is desirable. Neighborhoods that are changing rapidly in terms of who lives there or ways in which the area is developing can create concern.
- A sense of history – of people having lived in the same place in different times – is often an important element in neighborhood identity.
Why establish a neighborhood association? Why organize?
A neighborhood association is a group of homeowners, renters, apartment dwellers and representatives from neighborhood businesses, churches and schools who organize to improve conditions in a neighborhood. Established neighborhood associations can more effectively communicate with the local government the needs or concerns of the neighborhood. By obtaining concerns from established neighborhood associations, existing government resources could be allocated to address them. An organized neighborhood association can decide what needs to be done and work together to make it happen.
I’m interested in establishing an association in my neighborhood but I don’t know how.
The City of McAllen Planning Department through its neighborhood planner can provide technical assistance and organizational guidance. The planner will also serve as a liaison between the neighborhood and the city government. Please keep in touch with the neighborhood planner throughout the establishment of your neighborhood association. Below are some basic steps towards the establishment of a neighborhood association:
- 1. Talk with people in your neighborhood
- Talk to your neighbors about what you like and dislike about your neighborhood. What are issues or concerns that you have in common? Is there a beautification project that you can agree in pursuing? Once the discussion takes place, see if there is a general interest in forming a neighborhood association to try to correct the concerns or to perform the beautification project.
- 2. Create a steering committee
- If you find interest in establishing a neighborhood association, ask several interested people to serve on a steering committee to organize it. In addition to your neighbors, remember to invite church leaders, business owners and school principals to be a part of the group. Just three or four enthusiastic people can successfully organize a neighborhood association.
- 3. Establish a boundary
- In the committee’s opinion, where does your neighborhood end and adjacent areas of town begin? What are the streets, highways, parks or railroads that define the boundaries of your neighborhood? Avoid overlapping your boundaries with another neighborhood association. From a few city blocks up to 15 blocks is generally accepted as a good size for a neighborhood association. If you are not clear on other neighborhood association boundaries or for mapping assistance, contact the neighborhood planner at 681-1250.
- 4. Initial meeting
- Get business owners, church leaders and as many neighborhood residents as possible to attend an initial general neighborhood meeting. Distribute notices at least one week in advance and talk to as many people as possible to get the word out. During the meeting discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood and explain the benefits of establishing a neighborhood association. Try to obtain a consensus from the majority in attendance accepting or rejecting the concept of establishing a neighborhood association.
- 5. Organizational Framework
- If the majority of the people are in agreement with organizing a neighborhood association, the next step is to develop the organizational framework for the association. There are various forms of organizational structures. The neighborhood association may choose simply to adopt “Bylaws” which are simple rules with the approval of all participating people. As others join, they too would agree to the bylaws. In a more structured approach the association members may agree to form a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation or similar entity. Visit with the neighborhood planner for samples and guidance during this step.
- 6. Election of officers
- Once the by-laws are adopted, the election of officers should take place. Make sure there is a proper announcement of the upcoming elections and that the officers’ election takes place in a democratic way.
- 7. Register with the City of McAllen Planning Department
- Once established, the association must register with the city’s Planning Department to enable open communication between the City and its neighborhoods.
Once the neighborhood association is established, you will receive the following items from the City of McAllen Planning Department:
- A base map of your association within its boundaries
- City brochures
- Information on the Neighborhood Crimewatch Program
- Information about Community Development Block Grant (C.D.B.G.) funding for possible neighborhood projects in eligible areas
Once organized, now what?
To be effective a neighborhood association must be representative of the largest possible number of residents and property owners that comprise the entire neighborhood. Furthermore, the neighborhood association must provide a public forum for all to participate. To achieve this goal, residents of individual neighborhoods must collaborate with their neighbors on issues of concern. Below are some general tips that will help your association succeed.
- Have Great Meetings
- Make sure the meetings are informative, brief and fun.
- Keep Everyone Informed about Association Activities
- Establish a newsletter or web-site for the neighborhood association. Meeting and financial records should be made available to any person requesting such information. A good way of funding a newsletter is through paid advertisements by the local or nearby businesses and can be produced fairly inexpensively.
- Membership Recruitment
- Block parties can be effective in recruiting members to the association. Door to door recruitment is the most effective way to sign-up members to the association.
- Keep Interest in the Organization
- Once you have tackled a few projects, how do you keep people interested? This is by far the biggest challenge for any neighborhood organization. In general, members will participate if there are business to take care of, social events, other desirable projects in which to participate and issues of importance to discuss. Members will also keep interest if there are clear and visible accomplishments, organized and competent leaders and if there are events to recognize participants.
Do you have any more tips or advice before getting to work towards the improvement of my neighborhood?
Some research might be necessary before you decide that an activity or project listed below is worth pursuing. The mission and size of your organization and level of activity are among the many factors that determine the best status for your neighborhood association. The following are suggestions or project ideas your organization may choose to do:
- Membership fees
- Some associations collect annual fees from members. The City of McAllen may be able to assist with the collection of association fees through the utility bill if the funding raised is targeted for a neighborhood improvement project. Please remember that if your association receives or collects money, there will have to be accountability for the funding.
- Even if you are dealing with small sums of money, you should set up a bookkeeping system. The bookkeeping system that you adopt will be determined by your group’s needs. The larger the amount of money your organization receives, the greater the need for a more sophisticated accounting system.
- Neighborhood Crimewatch Program
- This program has been proven to reduce crime in city neighborhoods. This program is administered by the city Police Department.
- You may want to have special fundraisers such as garage sales, bake sales, car washes and art sales to raise funding to pay for special projects. Make sure to obtain the proper city permits and to account for the funds.
- Establish committees
- Some of the more common committees established by associations include crime prevention/public safety, publicity/newsletter, special events, public relations and land use. Establishing these type of committees could get much work done for the association and, best of all, maintain the members active and involved in the association.
- Perform projects/activities
- Below are some example projects that the association may want to pursue. Performing one or more of these projects can be lots of fun and rewarding for the members involved. Possible short and long-term projects can be the following:
- a neighborhood clean-up
- community garden
- tree and flower planting
- back-to-school party
- school supply drive
- murals or neighborhood art project
- neighborhood scrapbook or video
- scholarship program for neighborhood youths
- skills exchange program
- block party or festival
- neighborhood entrance signs
- security lighting
- tool lending libraries
- tutoring program for youth
- neighborhood cook-out, picnic or potluck
- National Night Out celebration
- holiday celebration
- neighborhood t-shirts
- yard of the month
- paint up/fix up projects
- Visit national neighborhood website
- Visit http://www.nusa.org for additional ideas or information on neighborhood empowerment.
Please keep in mind that the City of McAllen Planning Department through its neighborhood planner is available for support and assistance to you in your efforts. However, your neighborhood association will be an independent and autonomous group. Residents who live, work or own property in the neighborhood are responsible for charting the course for the neighborhood association. The association will be as strong and effective as the people committed to running it. Making the association as strong and viable as possible will insure its long-term success.
One key is to get a strong core group (officers) that is made up of individuals who are consistently willing to devote time each month. Always make sure that your goals match your resources. Pick goals that are realistic and stand a good chance of success, especially in the beginning. The only way to maintain interest is through energetic participation and constant communication. It also takes positive reinforcement, acknowledgement and a constant sense of accomplishment. Remember that you do not have to move to live in a better neighborhood.