The Emerging Generation Gap in Condo Corporations
(This US article describes issues confronting condo corporations in the coming years as they struggle to resolve generational conflicts in their communities. It has been reprinted with permission. The title has been modified to reflect local terminology.)
I missed the first generation gap where hippies were placing daisies in the rifles of the National Guard members. As a member of Generation X, however, I am here for the one that is now emerging in private residential communities around the country. Attend any condominium, cooperative or HOA Board or membership meeting and you are likely to sense some tension and considerably different perspectives which often fall along generational lines. A generational divide in terms of tastes, beliefs, politics and attitudes is usually harmless and occasionally comical but in a community association setting the gap must be acknowledged in order to be overcome.
The influx decades ago of retirees in their fifties and sixties into Florida and other Sunbelt states has resulted in many of those same folks having aged in place with quite a few now in their eighties and nineties and still serving on their boards of directors. For many they have been doing things a certain way for a very long time and they embrace the philosophy “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, “it” is often broken and some directors just don’t recognize or refuse to admit that reality.
At this point, any discussion of the IGen, Gen Z or Centennials is premature in the context of association leadership as you will not find many members of these generations currently serving on their association boards as they were all born in 1996 or later. These young adults may be living in your community but they are probably not attending meetings and are even less likely to be serving on a board.
Members of the Millennials and Gen Y (1977-1995) and Generation X (1965-1995) are serving on boards and often butting heads with the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Traditionalists or the Silent Generation (born prior to 1945). Even younger members of the Baby Boomers can find themselves at odds with older members of their own generation when it comes to operational and substantive challenges confronting their communities.
So how is the current generation gap manifesting itself? Fiscal and strategic planning are two areas where the cracks in a divided board may be most apparent. While it is certainly not true for everyone, some older board members (and older community members) do not wish to fully fund reserves since they may not live to reap the benefit of those reserved dollars. The “I no longer buy green bananas” philosophy can also extend to maintenance, repair and improvement decisions as well.
Generational tensions can also arise when aspirational matters are discussed. Many younger directors want state-of-the art technology (online voting, digitized association records, sophisticated communication systems) as well as recreational amenities that enhance an active and innovative lifestyle. Some communities have kept pace with changing lifestyles and replaced no longer popular amenities like shuffleboard courts with fitness courses and car charging stations; others are lagging behind in making these sorts of changes.
Generational gaps can also be exposed when passing or enforcing use restrictions. Younger directors might have a more liberal approach to rules than their older counterparts. Typical use restrictions regarding pets and occupancy might not hold the same appeal for a younger generation embracing the shared economy which has spawned companies like Airbnb and Uber.
These generational tensions can and do occur in all types of communities but they surprisingly also occur inside “55 and older” communities. Why would that be the case when the community population is supposedly homogenous given that all of the residents are “older”? Actually, a 55-year old individual today probably has more in common with a 45-year old individual than with a 55-year old alive in 1988 when the Fair Housing Amendments Act was passed. Since Americans are living longer and starting families at a much later age than they did three decades ago, many people in their mid-fifties can still be raising elementary age children.
Overall, it is not only helpful but essential to have different opinions and ideas on a representative board. The tug and pull of those ideas can result in real progress. And, learning more about what the generation ahead of or behind you believes couldn’t hurt.