When you’re reading the history of the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI-PADELVAL, for short), it might be helpful to whip out the map to get a sense of who they are and the communities they serve. Once you get past the little geography lesson, you can get a better sense of exactly who they are and what the organization has set out to accomplish.
At the national level, CAI represents hundreds of HOAs, condo communities and community associations, as well as the thousands of individual owners who call them home. According to CAI’s website, the organization’s focus is on “providing education, information and legislative advocacy services” to anyone and everyone living in or involved with the administration of condo/HOA communities in eastern Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey and Delaware.
It all started back in 1973 when the Community Associations Institute was born out of a need to support and educate America’s 205,000 residential condominium, cooperative and homeowner associations, as well as their related professionals and service providers.
Out of the national chapter, local chapters were created. Back in the mid-1970s, the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley chapter first incorporated as CAI’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, where it served the community association industry in Southeastern Pennsylvania and portions of Southern New Jersey.
The organization grew even larger when it merged with the Western Pennsylvania chapter in 1998. The growth continued when the group merged again four years later, this time with the Northeastern Pennsylvania chapter. Today, the chapter serves the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware (hence the long acronym) and has more than 1,200 members.
Making Connections, Meeting Needs
This might beg the question, if CAI already has a thriving New Jersey chapter, (the second largest in the U.S.) why would it need another?
“New Jersey identifies itself as South Jersey and North Jersey,” explains Tony Campisi, CAI-PADELVAL’s executive director. “The New Jersey chapter of the CAI covers the majority of the state, and we cover Camden, Gloucester and parts of two other counties. The suburbs of Philadelphia and South Jersey identify with Philadelphia. There are a lot of strong links to each other.”
Anyone who has ever been involved with an HOA or a professional organization of any kind recognizes how difficult it can be to meet the needs of one community and its diverse members, all of whom have different experiences and opinions.
Campisi, who has held his current role for the last six years, was recognized by the national CAI chapter as a 2006 executive director rising star. The organization is currently the fifth largest chapter in CAI and has won numerous awards for their achievements, including Achievement and Excellence Awards in leadership, membership, public affairs, chapter development, and excellence.
The group’s educational services include programs geared to both professional association managers and volunteer board members. The Essentials of Community Association Volunteer Leadership program for example, is an intensive, one-day seminar for HOA board members looking to improve their leadership skills.
CAI-PADELVAL also administers its Gold Star Community© Program, which recognizes member communities for working hard to develop and maintain set standards, “encourage community participation, maintain fiscal stability and positively impact their residents’ quality of life.” The group also distributes CAI’s national magazine, Common Ground, as well as the chapter’s quarterly publication, Community Assets.
Challenge Equals Opportunity
So what happens when you have an organization that serves communities and members in three separate states? You might think you’d have three times the difficulty, but Campisi considers it more of a unique challenge, one that the organization strives to meet head-on.
“It’s a challenge, because what might be an issue in the Poconos might not be an issue in Lancaster,” he says. “For example, in the Poconos the communities are large, and were created in the 1960s and ‘70s as vacation sites. Now they are transitioning to full-time residences and dealing with roads and infrastructure that originally were meant to be used maybe three months out of the year. However, what’s important to them isn’t the same as what’s important to a 40-story building or a lakefront property.”
To assist the needs of all the members, the chapter is governed by a board of directors comprised of community association managers, volunteer board members and homeowners, and professional business partners. In addition, there are regional committees—this encourages the needs of those communities are being met.
Currently, the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley Chapter has three regional councils. The Pocono Mountains Regional Council covers Northeast Pennsylvania. The New Jersey Regional Council covers Camden, Gloucester, Salem and parts of Burlington Counties in South Jersey. The Central Pennsylvania Regional Council is centered around the Harrisburg-Lancaster region and covers Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lebanon, Adams and surrounding counties.
There are several other committees, including an educational committee that plans classes for managers, board members, homeowners and community association members. There’s also a social committee charged with bringing the membership together so they can get to know each other a bit better and make better use of their knowledge and expertise.
Handling Hot Topics
The economy has changed, the real estate industry has changed and, in turn, so has CAI-PADELVAL’s membership, says Campisi. “[Our members] want to learn more about financials—they want to know more collections and foreclosures, for example. When it comes to legislation, they are dealing with infrastructure issues and the fact that there is no state funding available for infrastructure needs.”
Recently, says Campisi, the CAI drafted House Resolution 350, which directed the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study of common interest ownership communities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition to studying infrastructure, taxes, and so forth, the study would also count and catalogue the number of community associations in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. According to the CAI-PADELVAL website, the study was approved.
Even though the membership is dealing with changes in the economy in their own buildings and communities, the widespread fiscal worries hasn’t adversely impacted the Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter’s membership numbers. On the contrary, Campisi says that membership has been ‘remarkably stable’ for the last year.
“We recovered from a drop-off from last fall because people realize that they need the type of education and information that we offer, and they need it even more in challenging times,” he says.
The organization hosts an annual conference, with the 2010 conference to be held at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Campisi remembers how things changed at the 2001 conference. “It was held four days after September 11, and it took a long time to recover from that,” he says. “This year we had the highest number of attendees and exhibitors—I think because they are looking for help.”
Campisi explains that even though it’s a challenging economic environment, the HOA support and administration industry is somewhat recession-proof. “We still have to cut the grass, maintain the pool and get insurance,” he says. “Budgets may be stretched because of people losing jobs, but we still have to do these things.”
He is excited about CAI-PADELVAL’s future too as it begins to expand even more—this time into Western Pennsylvania. “We haven’t had a presence there in 11 years,” he says. “There’s a need for it. As is true in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and its suburbs are experiencing a renaissance building boom. Pittsburgh is experiencing an increase in building conversions into condos and new condos being built. CAI needs to have a presence in the area.”
As CAI expands to meet the changing needs of its members and of new communities just coming online, Campisi says that the organization will stick close to its original mission: to “foster vibrant, responsive, competent community associations, and help community associations promote harmony, a sense of community, responsible citizenship and effective leadership.”
And these days offering a helping hand to community associations and their memberships across the tri-state region and beyond is needed more than ever.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and author living in Poughkeepsie, New York.