Community association managers perform essential services for their clients, guiding communities with operational support and advice that affects the health, safety, and welfare of homeowners and residences. That role may be protecting managers from the furloughs and layoffs that have impacted so many other Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health crisis has had an immediate and devastating effect on the U.S. job market and labor force. The unemployment rate soared to nearly 15% in April, the highest level since the Great Depression, and 20.5 million workers lost their jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, more than 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past eight weeks.

As state and local governments issued shutdown orders, businesses canceled travel, and families stayed home to limit the spread of the deadly virus, workers in hospitality, retail, and manufacturing were particularly hard hit. White collar and government jobs also experienced cuts. So far, the story is a little bit different for community association management.

CAI evaluated the short-term economic impacts of the pandemic in a set of surveys conducted in late April. One measured the impacts on community association budgets, cash flow, and assessment delinquencies. Another gauged employment impact on community association managers and management companies.

Of the more than 350 managers responding, 91% reported no change in their employment.

And the vast majority (93%) of more than 130 management company CEOs and senior executives reported that they have not yet had to furlough or lay off managers on staff, but 29% said they had been forced to reduce staffing levels for other employees in their company.

“We’ve known for a long time that managers fill a critical, valuable role in their communities. We’ve seen how they’ve responded to crises such as natural disasters before, and how they’ve jumped into action during the COVID-19 pandemic is no different,” says Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, CAI’s chief executive officer. “The community management profession was largely insulated during the Great Recession more than 10 years ago, and we’re hopeful that will be the case again as the economy faces a difficult recovery from the pandemic.”

Community managers have two primary responsibilities: to carry out policies set by the board and to manage the association’s daily operations. This means that they authorize payment for association services; develop budgets and present association financial reports to board members; direct the enforcement of governing documents; perform site inspections; solicit, evaluate, and assist in insurance purchases; and even supervise the design and delivery of association recreational programs. Now, managers’ expertise is being used to guide communities through the pandemic.

In addition to providing essential services, community managers have benefited from the ability to work remotely. In anonymous, open-ended comments in CAI’s survey, one manager said, “As a manager, it is very easy to work from home. This is not a job that requires a traditional office setting as long as you can be a self-starter and have the proper setup.”

Another said, “This has shown that we can definitely do our jobs remotely. There is no need to go to an office every day. Technology is a great tool. It is time we took HOA management into the future.”

Some managers are concerned, however, that employment levels “may be different in a month or two.” Some management companies are worried about losing community association clients in the next year, particularly if assessment delinquencies increase due to lost income. “There’s possible fallout for managers in early 2021 after budgets have gone into effect and after many people will have lost their homes due to lack of employment and foreclosures,” said one management company executive.

Yet other executives remain confident in their business. “This is a very resilient business, and we’ve been able to bring on new accounts during this time,” said one. Another reported an interest in hiring more managers: “I wish we could hire more managers now, but the number of applicants is down under COVID.”

>>View more results from CAI’s research on the early economic impacts of COVID-19.

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Laura Otto

Laura Otto

Laura Otto is the senior editor of CAI’s award-winning Community Manager. A seasoned journalist, Laura previously worked for a creative, advocacy agency in Washington, D.C., where she wrote and edited content for a variety of public health clients. Prior to that Laura served as a senior writer and editor for the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Laura is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. She currently resides in Alexandria, Va., with her husband and two small children.

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