By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
In their 2015 Annual Report CAI claims to be the “single most credible resource not just for community managers and board members but also for the tens of millions of Americans who make their homes in associations.”
But, does the trade group actually represent the interests of more than 60 million homeowners and residents of Association Governed Housing (Homeowners’ associations, condominium and cooperative associations)?
It turns out, many professionals who work in the real estate industry, as well as housing consumer advocates, are highly skeptical. In a recent article published the Kansas City Star, critics and a former Trustee member of CAI speak out on the subject.
Group shifts its mission — and homeowners get left behind
Although the organization says it works to promote harmony in HOAs, it actually sides almost exclusively with HOA boards, critics say.
And the group’s efforts now stymie attempts to regulate HOAs, said Carson Horton, co-founder of Capital Reserve Consultants, an Oregon-based company that conducts reserve studies for community associations.
“I don’t care where you go, if you have legislation that even hints of any sort of regulatory oversight,” Horton said, “they’re there with their war chest and all their attorneys, and they’ll fight it to the death.”
…even one of the CAI founders acknowledges homeowners have taken a back seat.
When the CAI was formed, homeowners were among several groups it sought to work with, said Lincoln Cummings, a co-founder of the organization and former president.
But the organization was restructured two decades ago, he said, when property managers and attorneys — the ones making their living on the homeowners associations — changed the bylaws.
“They wrestled control away from homeowners,” Cummings said.
“Their goal is to improve conditions for the trade and make more money for their members — the attorneys and the managers,” said Shu Bartholomew, host of “On the Commons,” a weekly radio show in Virginia that addresses HOA issues.
The CAI disputes that it opposes tougher regulations and fails to protect homeowners.
Who is Community Associations Institute (CAI)?
The best way to get a feel for what kind of an organization we’re dealing with is to see how it’s organized and who its leaders are. Let’s take a look at information from CAI’s website.
General organization: (emphasis added)
CAI is governed by dedicated members who help shape the future of the growing, international organization, CAI chapters and the community association marketplace at large.
CAI is governed by a 15-member Board of Trustees. The Board is supported by three Membership Representation Groups (MRGs), elected members who give their constituencies a voice in crafting CAI policy and work to ensure that CAI continues to provide services and benefits that members need and value:
- Association of Professional Community Managers (APCM) Board – Twelve members represent management company CEOs and all other community association manager members.
- Business Partners Council – Twelve members represent business partner members.
- Community Association Volunteers Committee – Six members represent community association volunteer leaders and homeowner members.
The MRGs recognize the unique characteristics and needs of each of the CAI member classes, give them a stronger voice in crafting policy and provide a vehicle for making recommendations on CAI services and benefits.
If you look at who serves on the Board of trustees , you’ll see there are 12 community managers, 3 community association attorneys, and two homeowner volunteer members from the Community Association Volunteers Committee (CAVC).
No matter how you look at it, two homeowner members have very limited influence on a 15- member Board of Trustees made up of mainly of CAI certified community association managers.
In addition to the Trustees, here are the criteria for the MRGs. I’ve added emphasis to the number of members in each MRG.
The Association of Professional Community Managers (APCM) Board represents all community association managers. The Board consists of twelve members: four management company CEOs, two large-scale managers, four managers (who are not CEOs or large-scale managers), and two at-large members. The Board provides input on policy matters to the CAI Board of Trustees and serves as a key resource to staff.
The Business Partners Council represents product and services providers and professionals. The Council is made up of twelve members, with at least one person who is one of the following: Accountant, Attorney, Banker, Insurance Professional, Information Technology Professional, and Reserve Specialist. The Council provides input on policy matters to the CAI Board of Trustees, and serves as a key resource to staff.
The Community Association Volunteers Committee represents community association volunteer leaders and homeowner members. The Committee consists of six members, who are either community association volunteer leaders or homeowner members. The Committee provides input on policy matters to the CAI Board of Trustees and serves as a key resource to staff.
So we can see that there are 30 MRG members in total, but only 6 of those are “homeowner members.” Homeowners are clearly outnumbered by Community Managers and other professionals who profit from their service to the industry by a margin of 5 to 1. That’s why there’s very little meaningful homeowner influence on “policy matters.”
By the way, what does “homeowner member” actually mean?
Well, here are the official qualifications necessary to be a member of the CAVC:
Community Association Volunteers Committee candidates must also meet the following qualifications:
- Must be a Community Association Volunteer Leader or Individual Homeowner member of CAI and maintained membership for a minimum of two (2) years. (An individual who also is a Community Association Manager or CEO of a Management Company member, or the owner or employee of a Business Partner member is not eligible to serve on the Community Association Volunteers Committee.)
- Must have served or be serving on a CAI chapter or national committee or board.
- Must have served or be serving on a community association board.
- Must not have been officially sanctioned or otherwise censured by CAI relative to a CAI designation.
So “homeowner member” means a current or former board member of a homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association, AND someone who has already served CAI in some way.
Homeowners at large are not part of CAI’s leadership, and most homeowner members would be volunteers on their Association board or one of the committees.
What is the mission and purpose of CAI?
Although the non-profit organization characterizes itself as an educational organization – providing training and certification for professionals in community association management, law, and insurance – a closer look at CAI’s 2015 Annual Report reveals its true mission and top priority: controlling the Legislative landscape for its members.
In the words of 2015 CAI President, David I. Caplan:
We’re now approaching 34,000 members. Our advocacy efforts have grown too, and they’re bearing more and more fruit. Our state legislative action committees (LACs) continue to increase their influence, while our Federal LAC has greatly expanded its reach in Washington, D.C. We now have a seat at the table in all legislative and regulatory venues, with a voice that is increasingly respected and influential.
Indeed, according to the same report, CAI has 400 members spread out over 35 state LACs, whose primary purpose is to mobilize when new legislative proposals are filed, “analyzing the legislation, meeting with legislators, drafting alternative legislation, developing corrective amendments or lobbying to kill a bill altogether.”
The organization is well-funded for their lobbying efforts. As of fiscal year 2015, CAI boasted 34,000 members, nearly $13 million in revenues, and $2.6 million in net assets.
Government Affairs and Public Policy
In addition, according to Section 3 of their ByLaws, CAI has a standing committee responsible for crafting public policy for the organization:
SECTION 3. Government and Public Affairs Committee.
A. The Government and Public Affairs Committee (“G&PA Committee”) shall be a standing committee of the Board of Trustees and shall be composed of a maximum of twenty (20) members, each of whom shall be appointed for a two (2) year term. The Association of Professional Community Managers Board and the Business Partners Council shall each appoint three (3) members, and the Community Association Volunteers Committee shall appoint two (2) members to the G&PA Committee from among their respective memberships not later than 60 days prior to the following Term Commencement Date. The Board of Trustees shall appoint the remaining twelve (12) members of the G&PA Committee. All such appointments shall be made so that no more than forty-five percent (45%) shall be from any one (1) membership class and no more than two (2) members shall be members of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees shall select the chairperson of the Committee from among the appointees.
B. The G&PA Committee shall be an advisory committee and shall monitor public policy issues on a national, state and local level and make recommendations to the Board of Trustees concerning public positions and non-routine actions to be taken by CAI.
In short, the majority of committee members are appointed by the Board of Trustees, and Community Association Volunteers (“homeowners”) get only 2 seats at the table. On the G&PA Committee, therefore, homeowners are outnumbered 10 to 1.
The committee develops Public Policies Statements that drive CAI’s political and economic agenda. The policies govern CAI’s legislative stance on matters such as Aesthetics as an Economic Issue, Community Association Manager Licensing Policy, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Government Regulation of Community Associations, Lien Priority for Community Association Assessments, and Protection for Community Association Volunteers. In total, there are 34 policies, which are recommended reading for all housing consumer advocates seeking reform of the Association Governed Housing model.