Member support question: Facilitating tenants’ associations
Members of The Martinique Tenants’ Association in CityHousing Hamilton
My tenants have some concerns and are interested in forming a tenants’ association. Should I let them do that? How does it work?
Tenants do not need management to agree in order start a tenants’ association. There are, however a few things that they and you should know before they start. Often a tenants’ association can be very beneficial for the tenants as well as the organization.
What is a tenants’ association?
A tenants’ association is one way that tenants can participate in their non-profit. Tenant associations have a distinctive structure.
It is, first of all, an independent, tenant-run organization. The Board or staff may help the association get started, may provide funds, or may be invited by the tenants to attend meetings or give advice, but it’s the tenants who:
- are the members of the association;
- decide how the association will be run; and
- set the association’s agenda, make decisions, and carry them out.
A tenants’ association is also an advisory group. It can make recommendations to your organization’s Board and staff but, ultimately, the Board decides whether or not to take the association’s advice.
How a tenants’ association can help
If tenants want to have a say in management decisions, the tenants’ association can bring tenant opinions to the Board and staff. If tenants want to provide services that are beyond the mandate or the budget of the non-profit, the tenants’ association can bring forward ideas, raise funds, and co-ordinate volunteers.
If tenants want to build a sense of community, the tenants’ association can provide an ongoing structure that outlives any particular issue. Tenants’ association meetings can give neighbours a chance to introduce themselves. The activities a tenants’ association sponsors can also create a neighbourly feeling in the building.
How a tenants’ association starts
All that’s needed to start a tenants’ association is two or three tenants who share the same concerns. To grow from there, an all-tenants meeting is a great way for them to connect with other tenants who are interested in joining and also to discern what the most common concerns for tenants are.
Non-profit interaction with tenants’ associations
Housing providers should meet with a tenants’ association to come up with a way of interacting that benefits both the tenants and the non-profit. Some ideas for creating links include:
- regular meetings with staff
- a regular time slot on the Board agenda to present reports
- posting updates on a communal bulletin board
- staff or directors invited to attend tenants’ association meetings.
Supporting a tenants’ association:
Advice for Boards and staff Tenants’ associations sometimes think that the tenants’ views will automatically be agreed to by the Board. If the tenants’ association is not able to sway a Board decision, the tenants may become disillusioned. They may suspect the association leaders are not really working on behalf of the tenants. Or they may become frustrated and refuse to participate. It’s the Board’s job to make sure tenants are not set up for disappointment. They should describe clearly the role tenants can play, and how that role can be changed.
It is important that tenants know what to expect from their involvement in a tenants’ association. Tell tenants you want their involvement – and how they can expect to be involved. Decide upon your own philosophy of tenant involvement. Where do you need tenant input? How could you best channel that input? Are there limits to tenant participation?
Then explain your policy to tenants. If a tenants’ association has already been formed, include membership information in a welcome package to new tenants.
Don’t set up false expectations.
Tenants associations can be a wonderful way to connect the tenants and build strong communities. They can be helpful to management in identifying the concerns of tenants and working towards solutions. Setting out with a clear understanding of the roles of the association and management and ongoing communication can decrease the likelihood of conflict.