Create organizations that residents will want to join

Membership has been declining in community associations, which have played a core role in local communities, and there is a shortage of people to serve as executives of these groups. It is important to change the organizations so that residents can see the merits of joining.

A community association is a voluntary organization for people living in the same area that promotes friendship and information sharing. Members can join or leave without any restrictions. These associations are not a system established by law, unlike the prewar and wartime “chonaikai” that were organizations subordinate to municipalities.

There are about 300,000 community associations nationwide, but the overall participation rate in fiscal 2020 was 72%, down six percentage points from 10 years ago. In some municipalities in urban areas, the participation rate was around 50%.

The decline in the participation rate is said to have resulted in greying executive members who have been in their positions for a long time. In some cases, operations have stagnated, including the distribution of administrative public relations brochures for municipalities, the collection of membership fees and fund-raising activities.

Local governments are increasingly concerned about the situation. According to a survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry last year on all municipalities nationwide, 64% said they were making efforts to reduce the burden on community associations.

Specific measures included securing places for community associations to conduct their activities and integrating the sections of local governments that deal with issues related to community associations.

However, community associations’ executive members feel burdened by such tasks as distributing administrative public relations brochures for municipalities and recommending candidates for local social welfare commissioners. Only a few municipalities nationwide are working to reduce these responsibilities.

Local governments should consider more carefully whether work done on the premise of cooperation from community associations is really necessary, and whether only such associations can actually do that work.

An increasing number of nonprofit organizations specialize in matters that have been handled by local communities, such as looking after children and creating places for the elderly to socially integrate. To ease the burden on community associations, it will be important for local governments to play a role in getting NPOs and other organizations involved.

Community associations serve as a foundation for residents to share information and help each other in times of disasters and other emergencies. Events such as festivals can strengthen solidarity among residents. It is also essential for efforts to be made to expand this role and the appeal of community associations, and increase the number of members.

Some community associations are promoting the digitization of “kairanban,” community circulars that are distributed among residents, and the use of social media to confirm the safety of residents in the event of disasters. This approach may help deepen interest and understanding among younger generations about the activities of community associations.

Community associations will have to reform themselves. There must be no pressure to make residents feel obligated to join the associations to live in communities or serve as executive members. If activities are perceived as closed off, there will be no prospect of increasing the number of participants.

Associations need to curb the decline in their membership through such measures as enhancing transparency by revealing how they use membership fees, and by making themselves organizations that act based on the needs of residents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2022)