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Unwillingness to serve threatens buildings

A shrinking interest to serve in leadership positions is threatening the future of Century Village East buildings.  That’s according to some residents who are sounding the alarm over the growing problem of finding people willing to serve on building boards of directors.


While some believe a drop in Village volunteerism is nothing more than a mirror of a larger societal trend away from public service, others say specific demographic factors of the Village are making the problem even worse.


The first factor is the age of residents in the community.  While a significant (and perhaps growing) number of residents in the village trend toward the younger range of a 55-plus community, there are, of course, a large number of older residents for whom the rigors of serving on a building board are neither tolerable nor desirable.


The second factor that chips away at the number of residents willing to volunteer is how much time they spend here.  There are those who call Century Village East their primary home. There are others who arrive in November for a tropical winter hiatus.


While some view the Village as their permanent civic community, others see it as a vacation destination requiring no more personal investment in its operation than they would a timeshare stay in the Bahamas.


There are many seasonal residents that successfully hold leadership positions, including building board seats.  But conventional wisdom around the Clubhouse pool would say that, on average, the percentage of seasonal residents willing to devote hours of their time to board meetings is lower than the percentage of full-timers.


“When I come down for the season, I’m on vacation,” said one seasonal resident who did not want to be identified. “The last thing I want to do is spend my time attending meetings and working.”


Both groups depend on the continued financial stability and proper management of their buildings to preserve their property values.  Yet many buildings are facing trouble and risk falling into receivership because they cannot find enough people to serve on their boards.


It is a problem made worse by the governing structures created when the gates opened in the 1974.


Century Village East faces a unique problem that similar communities do not.  In Century Village East, there are 254 buildings requiring 253 boards to run them. (Swansea A and Swansea B are run by a joint board).  Every single building operates independently, and every single building requires its own board of directors. To properly function, each building must rely on its own small group of residents. Contrast this with other communities that are structured differently and therefore require much fewer people drawn from a much larger group. 


Buildings in Century Village Boca Raton do not have their own individual boards.  Each area is run by a single board of directors, overseeing all the buildings in that area.  In Wynmoor, a retirement community in Coconut Creek, there is one single board that oversees every building. 


As a result, both communities require a fraction of the number of residents needed in Century Village East to serve in leadership positions.


The numbers don’t lie.


Assume the minimum number of residents required for a building board is five.  With 253 boards, Century Village East requires over 1,200 people to properly function.  The actual number is higher, as many buildings require more than five members. You must also add in organizations that are not buildings but also require leadership.


On the surface, it may seem that finding 1,200 people in a Village of 16,000 doesn’t sound difficult.  It would require only one out of every 13 people to volunteer.


But in the words of famous sports broadcaster Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”


While there may be approximately 16,000 residents during the peak of season, there are only 8,508 individual units. With rare exceptions, more than one person from the same unit may not serve on their building board.  Therefore, you are now reduced to finding 1,200 people out of a possible 8,508.  The ratio drops to one in seven residents.


The next time you are at the Clubhouse, look around and ask yourself if you think one in seven people wants to devote hours to attending meetings, going over budgets, struggling with rising insurance costs, possibly making themselves the target of neighbor frustrations, and dealing with building management issues.


But the numbers continue to get even worse. Approximately half the residents in Century Village East are seasonal.


While seasonal residents may be active, engaged citizens at home, many of them agree their time in Century Village East is meant to be carefree and unencumbered by the demands of volunteer servitude to their buildings.


As a result, the pool of willing board volunteers is not 8,508. Because approximately half the Village population is seasonal, the number of residents interested in serving may be much lower.  Even if a seasonal resident is willing to serve on a building board, the logistics of not being in the Village half the year present their own barriers to service.


Now look around the Clubhouse and ask yourself if you think one in three people you see is willing to give up their leisure time and deal with the headaches related to serving on a building board.


Many buildings face a greater challenge than others.


Some low-rise garden buildings only have 16 units. At a minimum, they require someone from one out of every three units to serve. If any of those units are owned by seasonal residents, it may increase the challenge.  If any of those units are investment properties with tenants, it may increase the challenge. Finally, if one person owns multiple units, it creates an entirely new set of problems.


The consequences of not being able to fill a condo board could be catastrophic for a building.  According to Destiny Goede a lawyer specializing in condo law who writes a column for the newspaper TC Palm, the building could enter receivership.


According to Goede’s column, “appointing a receiver has numerous negative implications for an association. Specifically, the receiver would be entitled to receive a salary and reimbursement of all costs and attorney’s fees payable from association funds. As such, this could be a significant new cost for your association that could be avoided.”


Entering receivership could also affect property values.  “A receivership will likely look unfavorable to potential homebuyers and lenders, and a receiver could have possible negative insurance coverage implications, etc.,” wrote Goede.


Any unit owner can file a petition with the court to have their building placed into receivership.  Once filed, the building has 30 days to fill the board vacancies.  If it is unable to find people to serve, the court could appoint a receiver.


Appointing a receiver is an expensive consequence as the building is responsible for paying the receiver’s fee.  This could amount to thousands of dollars per month.


Overall civic participation has been dropping across the county, according to data from the national organization AmeriCorps. Every two years, AmeriCorps conducts surveys about volunteerism and other forms of civic engagement in the United States in partnership with the US Census Bureau.


According to the most recent numbers, “the formal volunteering rate dropped seven percentage points—from 30 percent in 2019 to 23 percent in 2021. This is the largest change since AmeriCorps and the US Census began collecting this data in 2002,” reported AmeriCorps.


In South Florida, the numbers are even worse. Among the nation’s 12 largest metropolitan area, the Miami Metro Area ranked almost dead last in volunteering.


Beyond the Village gates, numerous cities are also struggling with finding residents to serve. 


Several South Florida cities are facing the prospect of not having enough people on their commissions or councils.  Large numbers of elected officials are resigning before their terms are up.  Many cite a new state law requiring more exhaustive financial disclosure as the reason for quitting. The new law in conjunction with a decline in the overall desire to serve is creating a crisis outside the Village that mirrors the struggles inside the Village.


Jeff Kohn, an area chair, and president of Lyndhurst I understands why some residents don’t want to volunteer.  He says he often hears: “I’m too tired. It’s a big workload. I’m on vacation. I don’t want to do it. I’ve been on boards before, and it’s too much work. I don’t want to be involved. I’m retired and don’t want to work anymore.”


Finally, another factor may be negatively impacting Village residents’ desire to serve.


Century Village East is a community where building board members rub elbows with their neighbors at every event, every pool, and every class.  During good economic times, when building finances are strong and condo dues are either steady or dropping, board members enjoy the positive approval of their friends and neighbors.


Recently however, buildings have faced serious economic challenges.  Aging rooftops demand replacement.  Skyrocketing insurance fees are fueling expenses.  Building boards are being forced to consider raising dues or passing special assessments to cover costs.  Interactions with neighbors are no longer opportunities to receive praise for a job well done. They can be uncomfortable exchanges during which a board member tries to defend why they voted to increase their neighbor’s dues.  For some who may have enjoyed a leadership position in the past, they are deciding it is no longer worth the social cost.


All factors taken together have created an environment where finding residents willing to volunteer their time is perhaps more difficult than ever before. Unless recent trends change, Century Village East’s buildings may face increasingly difficult challenges to function effectively.


There are no easy solutions.  Some buildings have begun to offer money to board members as an incentive to serve.  Other buildings focus on educating residents to the consequences if no one steps up.  Finally, some buildings have reached out beyond their own properties to find board members.  Some residents are serving on the boards of buildings in which they don’t live.


There is no one-size-fits-all answer that will apply to all the Village’s buildings.  What is clear, however, is that all the Village’s buildings continue to face the same pressures and challenges.

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