Neighborhood associations

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Inconclusive impact on disparities

Strategies with this rating do not have enough evidence to assess potential impact on disparities.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Neighborhood associations are voluntarily organized groups of residents who work together to create a unified voice, enhance living conditions in their neighborhood, and address neighborhood concerns. Neighborhood associations can hold block parties and neighborhood events or provide advice to local government. In mixed commercial and residential areas, neighborhood associations frequently include business owners or representatives. Neighborhood associations can take various forms such as grassroots neighborhood organizations, civic associations, or city-sanctioned governing structures: they are different from homeowners’ associations in that homeowners’ associations impose mandatory membership and dues on groups of property owners, whereas neighborhood associations do not1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased social capital

  • Increased social cohesion

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased community involvement

  • Increased civic engagement

  • Increased political engagement

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Neighborhood associations are a suggested strategy to increase social capital and social cohesion in communities3, 4, 5. Available evidence suggests that involvement in neighborhood associations and meetings may be associated with residents’ increased bonding social capital (e.g., socializing and cooperation with neighbors)4, 5, linking social capital (e.g., connections to neighbors and neighborhood organizations) and positive perceptions of neighborhood norms and values4. Among individuals participating in neighborhood associations, those who are most active report the highest levels of social capital6, 7. Effects of neighborhood association involvement on increased social capital appear to be greater for tenants than homeowners5. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Neighborhoods associations may increase civic participation through interactions with municipal governments8 and participation in political activities for association members9. Neighborhood associations also appear to be associated with increased communication and community activities, along with higher neighborhood satisfaction among residents10. Participants who spend face-to-face time and develop interpersonal relationships with other group members may be more likely to continue their participation than those who do not11.

A Los Angeles-based study suggests that the performance of neighborhood association boards may affect associations’ effectiveness at solving community issues and advising about city policies2. Available evidence disagrees about whether living in areas with neighborhood associations influences property values; a Little Rock, Arkansas-based study found that an active neighborhood association may be associated with increased property values12, while a Florida-based study found no effect13. Another study from Tallahassee, Florida suggests that neighborhood associations interact more with municipal governments than homeowners’ associations and are likely to mobilize around the issues of crime and business encroachment into residential areas14.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact neighborhood associations have on disparities. Cities remain highly segregated and municipal funding is limited, creating competition for resources. Available evidence suggests neighborhood associations with residents of higher socio-economic status may be more organized, have more resources, and be more effective at influencing local governments’ decisions8. A study in Bloomington, Indiana revealed the systematic exclusion of multi-family housing units, and thus renters, from neighborhood associations, perpetuating existing systemic disparities by giving property owners more opportunities to influence local government22. Neighborhood associations that exclude non-homeowners likely fail to represent the needs of other local residents when weighing in on issues that influence land use and housing policy22. However, one expert suggests that neighborhood associations located in formerly redlined areas may be well poised to create solutions to urban inequality, building community resilience out of necessity23.

One study has shown that, among tenants, neighborhood association involvement is associated with greater trust in racial minorities living in the neighborhood, though not among homeowners5.

What is the relevant historical background?

In the late 1800s, rising urbanization driven by industrialization, immigration, rural migration, and the creation of mass transit led to the large scale expansion of American cities24. Neighborhood associations first emerged in large cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s as groups of largely middle class residents and local businessmen to lobby municipal governments for projects using city funds, from schools and parks to other infrastructure improvements. This was often to the detriment of poorer neighborhoods that lacked the influence to ensure an equitable distribution of resources25, and frequently involved additional efforts to keep those the middle class deemed undesirable out of their neighborhoods, including people of color and those living with extreme poverty and social stigma25, 26. However, some groups, such as the Settlement House movement, worked in urban areas to help people living in poverty and immigrant communities. The 1940s saw efforts by residents and organizers to empower the urban poor26.

As population density increased in urban areas, decision makers at the local, state, and federal levels encouraged zoning to distinguish land uses and to encode racial segregation. Homeowners historically opposed construction of apartment buildings, including overt opposition to individuals of color, religious minorities, and other groups moving into what were perceived as white neighborhoods27. By the 1960s, disinvestment in both urban neighborhoods and rural areas left them suffering from concentrated poverty and high levels of residential segregation28. The 1960s and 1970s saw the formation of multi-class and multi-racial associations in low income, working class neighborhoods, modeled after the older neighborhood groups that had preceded them25.

While overt discrimination in housing is less obvious today, the systemic inequities that it embedded in rules and regulations remain, along with its impact on where people live22. For example, in St. Louis, Missouri, residents of color are still significantly less likely to have neighborhood associations29. Some neighborhood associations have incorporated permanent equity committees, such as Tangletown in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has also incorporated equity questions into their decision making process30.

Equity Considerations
  • Who is involved in your neighborhood association? Does it reflect the diversity of your neighborhood? Who experiences barriers to involvement in your neighborhood association? What can you do to make it easier for them to be involved?
  • What role do neighborhood associations play in your community? Who benefits from their activities and who does not?
  • Are there certain types of housing (e.g., multi-family homes, apartment buildings or complexes, etc.) that have been historically excluded from associations? Can existing neighborhood associations in the areas in which they are located include them? Can local government offices support residents who have been excluded in creating new neighborhood associations?
  • How does your local government interact with neighborhood associations from your community?
Implementation Examples

Neighborhood associations are common all across America. As of March 2023, the City of Vancouver, Washington, recognizes 69 neighborhood associations, representing more than 95% of city residents; the Office of Neighborhoods provides numerous resources for neighborhood associations, including handbooks for leadership, guidance on slowing local traffic, neighborhood concern-suggestion forms, advice for political campaign season, and more15. NeighborWorks Pocatello in Southeastern Idaho offers a neighborhood association toolbox with guidance for newly formed associations and new members16. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Department of Planning Services includes neighborhood associations in conversations about proposed developments in their area and takes their considerations and concerns into account17. The City of Meriden, Connecticut, supports its approximately 30 neighborhood associations, all united under the leadership of the Council of Neighborhoods, with a Neighborhood Initiative Unit Officer and a Code Enforcement Officer18.

Neighborhood associations may join together to form neighborhood alliances. The Oshkosh Healthy Neighborhood Alliance, made up of resident leaders from neighborhood associations in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, collaborates with the City of Oshkosh to support the development of new associations, discuss and work together to resolve community issues, and promote safe, healthy, informed neighborhoods; they also offer step-by-step guides and resources for new associations and potential members19. The Association of South Jackson Neighborhoods represents the interests of neighborhood associations in Jackson, Mississippi; all adult residents, businesses, and organizations within the city’s defined boundaries may join, as part of empowering neighborhoods to participate in the decisions that shape their communities20.

Cities and counties may purchase memberships with Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) on behalf of their local neighborhood associations; NUSA facilitates opportunities for neighborhood associations, local government agencies, and community-oriented public and private organizations to share stories and connect through conferences, newsletters, and neighborhood awards21.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

Policy Circle-Neighborhood associations - The Policy Circle. Stitching the fabric of neighborhoods: Neighborhood associations.

ACC-Starting a NA - A guide for starting a successful neighborhood association. Athens-Clark County, Georgia.

Round Rock-Neighborhood handbook - City of Round Rock Texas Neighborhood Services. Neighborhood organizational handbook.

RNeighbors-Neighborhood toolkit - Rochester’s Neighborhood Resource Center (RNeighbors). Neighborhood association toolkit. Rochester, MN.

Springfield-Successful Neighborhood Orgs - Success through the neighborhood association. Neighborhoods and Planning Office, Department of Planning and Development, City of Springfield, Missouri. 2014.

HomeLight-Mickelson 2021 - Mickelson S. What is the purpose of neighborhood associations and can they really add value to my community? HomeLight, Inc. 2021.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 Round Rock-Neighborhood handbook - City of Round Rock Texas Neighborhood Services. Neighborhood organizational handbook.

2 Li 2019 - Li H, Wen B, Cooper TL. What makes neighborhood associations effective in urban governance? Evidence from neighborhood council boards in Los Angeles. American Review of Public Administration. 2019;49(8):931-943.

3 CDC-Social capital - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social capital.

4 Alaimo 2010 - Alaimo K, Reischi TM, Allen JO. Community gardening, neighborhood meetings, and social capital. Journal of Community Psychology. 2010;38(4):497-514.

5 Ruef 2016 - Ruef M, Kwon SW. Neighborhood associations and social capital. Social Forces. 2016;95(1):159-190.

6 Ohmer 2008 - Ohmer ML. The relationship between citizen participation and organizational processes and outcomes and the benefits of citizen participation in neighborhood organizations. Journal of Social Service Research. 2008;34(4):41-60.

7 Ohmer 2007 - Ohmer ML. Citizen participation in neighborhood organizations and its relationship to volunteers’ self- and collective efficacy and sense of community. Social Work Research. 2007;31(2):109-120.

8 Matthews 2021 - Mathews MA. Understanding the roles and contributions of neighborhood organizations in civic governance. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. 2021;32:821-829.

9 Hays 2007 - Hays RA, Kogl AM. Neighborhood attachment, social capital building, and political participation: A case study of low- and moderate-income residents of Waterloo, IA. Journal of Urban Affairs. 2007;29(2):181-205.

10 Hur 2015 - Hur M, Bollinger AG. Neighborhood associations and their strategic actions to enhance residents’ neighborhood satisfaction. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 2015;44(6):1152-1172.

11 Christens 2011 - Christens BD, Speer PW. Contextual influences on participation in community organizing: A multilevel longitudinal study. American Journal of Community Psychology. 2011;47(3-4):253-263.

12 Craw 2017 - Craw M. Institutional analysis of neighborhood collective action. Public Administration Review. 2017;77(5):707-717.

13 Scheller 2015 - Scheller DS. Neighborhood governments and their role in property values. Urban Affairs Review. 2015;51(2):290-309.

14 Scheller 2018 - Scheller D, Yerena A. Neighborhood concerns and mobilization patterns of homeowners and neighborhood associations. Journal of Public Management & Social Policy. 2018;24(2):82-106.

15 Vancouver-NA Resources - City of Vancouver, WA. City Manager’s Office. Resources for neighborhood associations.

16 NeighborWorks Pocatello - NeighborWorks Pocatello. Serving Southeast Idaho. Neighborhood association toolbox.

17 Ann Arbor-NA - City of Ann Arbor, MI. Planning Services. Neighborhood associations.

18 Meriden-NA - City of Meriden, CT. Government. Neighborhood associations: It takes a neighborhood.

19 Oshkosh-NA - City of Oshkosh, WI. Creating a new neighborhood association.

20 ASJN - Association of South Jackson Neighborhoods (ASJN). The need for neighborhood associations. Jackson, MS.

21 NUSA - Neighborhoods USA (NUSA). Building stronger communities.

22 Myerson 2022a - Myerson DL, Stosberg M. Mapping equity and exclusion in neighborhood associations in Bloomington, Indiana. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 2022;24(1):323-330.

23 Wagner 2020a - Wagner J. Rethinking the politics of vulnerability: Neighborhood empowerment in Kansas City Missouri (USA). Boletin de la Asociacion de Geografos Espanoles. 2020;87:1-35.

24 LOC-Cities 1880-1900 - Library of Congress. U.S. history primary source timeline: Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900, city life in the late 19th century.

25 Arnold 1979 - Arnold JL. The Neighborhood and City Hall: The origin of neighborhood associations in Baltimore, 1880-1911. Journal of Urban History. 1979;6(1):3-30.

26 Mooney-Melvin 1996 - Mooney-Melvin P. Before the neighborhood organization revolution: Cincinnati neighborhood improvement associations, 1890-1950. 1996.

27 Shertzer 2022 - Shertzer A, Twinam T, Walsh RP. Zoning and segregation in urban economic history. Regional Science and Urban Economics. 2022;94:103652.

28 Zdenek 2017 - Zdenek RO, Walsh D. Navigating community development: Harnessing comparative advantages to create strategic partnerships. Chapter: The background and history of community development organizations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2017.

29 St Louis-NAs - City of St. Louis. Neighborhood associations.

30 Tangletown-Equity - Tangletown Neighborhood Association. Equity.