Today is the first day we have been back in the office since our area was hit by Hurricane Irma. I am thankful that all of us made it through the storm in one piece, and I am especially grateful to have power, Internet, and especially air conditioning!
But many of those affected by Irma, Harvey, Katia and even the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and the earthquake in Mexico are still deep in the thick of dealing with evacuations, displacement, loss of services and property damage.
The road to recovery will be long and full of hardship, which is why now, more than ever, is the time to come together and show the generosity of the human spirit.
The first steps to recovery are obvious. Assess the damage, clean up the debris, reach out to the community to make sure everyone made it through OK, help those who are in need. But soon, the big things are done, and the difficult part of recovery begins - getting back to business as usual.
It's so easy when you return from dealing with disaster to fall back into old patterns, but remember that your homeowners are still dealing with the stress of lost posessions, damaged property, and even injuries.
What your residents really need in this time is a caring organization that is perceived as helpful, not harmful. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Greater Houston Chapter of CAI saw this need. In response to backlash from communities posting violation notices to homeowners whose homes were damaged by the flooding, the chapter drafted a letter to all area management companies:
My fellow CEO, Managers and Community Association Professionals:
The State of Texas has been rocked by Hurricane Harvey from Rockport to Port Arthur and all points in between. Our communities have been devastated and there is no Texan that has remained untouched by this epic catastrophe.
At this time in our history, we are seeing people from all walks of life reach out to help their fellow Texan, and this is our opportunity as community association professionals to show our best side, our kindest and most compassionate sides.
There will be LOADS of debris in the community, on the front lawns, in the driveways and in the streets as our residents gut their homes from the raging flood waters. This is NOT the time for us to send compliance demands, threats of fines and legal action. This is the time for us to reach out and help our residents, with water, bleach, lunch or a hug.
Please join me in a moratorium on compliance demands for the month of September. Allow us to be caring, compassionate souls to our fellow neighbors, and if you want to make the 6:00 news, let it be a story of your goodness.
Greater Houston Chapter CAI President CEO and caring and compassionate neighbor
There are so many things I love about this letter! First of all, it's short - it gets down to business quickly without a lot of fluff and nonsense that businesses are often tempted to include.
The second thing I love about it is that it is inclusive. Nobody is left out of the letter, or made to feel like their disaster is less important than someone else's just because that someone else had more damage. Trauma is trauma, and none of us have the right to quantify anyone else's experience.
Third, it praises the efforts that have already been taken. I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing in the world that a tragedy brings out more than simple human kindness.
This past week, I have personally benefitted from the kindness of strangers. One neighbor with a generator strung an extension cord on her bush to let the neighbors without power charge their devices. A local restaurant put out a cooler full of bags of ice for people to take. Neighbors came together to move heavy trees and debris out of harm's way. Neighborhood teens chopped debris into firewood for barbeques and fire pits. We even had a block party to cook all of the thawing steak, chicken and burgers in everyone's freezers.
After disaster is a great time to acknowledge all of the angels who come out of the woodwork to make it better. It's also a great time to appeal to one's better nature, which the letter also does.
I encourage anyone who is starting the process of recovery from your own disasters to follow Texas' lead and use this as an opportunity to show a little human kindness. Put a hold on compliance letters, late fees and other demands, and be a compassionate neighbor.
If you would like to implement this strategy in your community, we have prepared a sample letter template that you can use for your own announcement. Simply download this sample language, customize as needed, (run by your community association attorney as needed), and send to your community members!