By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Ward Lucas (author of Neighbors at War) makes some great points in his recent blog, Rules for Radical HOAs. Ward argues that a significant portion of residential real estate has moved slowly but surely away from traditional hometown democratic local governance – based upon the principles of the US Constitution – toward the collectivism that characterizes HOA governance. And I think he’s nailed it.
Today I want to take Ward’s astute analysis one step further.
Using principles of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, HOA stakeholders have promoted their collective condominium projects and planned communities, in part, by creating several common enemies.
Let me point out exactly how the HOA Industry, led by Community Associations Institute (CAI), backed by Big Developers (Home and Condo Builders), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), have used Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” principles over the last 5 decades to challenge and radically transform local governance all across the US.
A primary objective of the HOA industry has been to create common enemies. Here’s a list of examples. I have paraphrased typical political talking points spewed by industry leaders in italics.
HOA Enemy #1: the government.
In the early years of HOA growth, city and town government was vilified as an ineffective, inefficient provider of community services.
Surely a private association can do a better job of meeting collective expectations, and therefore we don’t need any stinkin’ government interference!
Of course, over time, local and state politicians have become increasingly cozy with real estate, developer, and HOA trade group lobbyists. The HOA industry appears to live by the old adage: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The industry still does not want government “interference” (i.e. Regulation), so they’ve graciously offered to collectively finance and self-manage their private empires. Now traditional local governments don’t have to do much for HOA and condo owners, other than collect property taxes.
HOA Enemy #2: your non-conforming neighbor.
You know, that horribly inconsiderate individual who dares to paint his house purple, or the mom who allows her children to play outside and make kid noise, or the elder couple who, because of health limitations, can’t always keep their lawn under precisely 3 inches tall.
They knew the rules when they chose to live in an HOA. How dare they defy those rules and threaten property values in the entire neighborhood!
HOA Enemy #3: the outspoken resident.
This is the uncommon person who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo and tell the HOA board and manager how unreasonable they are.
They are met with cries, “We must enforce the terms of the contract (covenants, restrictions, and rules), no matter what. So if you don’t like it here, MOVE!”
HOA Enemy #4: the whistle blower.
This is the savvy home or condo owner who knows something is amiss with association finances, or that a developer-controlled board is covering up defective construction, or that someone on the HOA board is self-dealing. That person begins to ask questions, only to be characterized as a trouble maker.
How dare you question our integrity, and selfishly tarnish the reputation of the community! You are responsible for reducing our property values. (And, by the way, threatening the profitability of the builder-developer, board members on the take, or the management company.)
HOA Enemy #5: Urban Sprawl.
According to some in the industry, it is now unfashionable to desire to live in a home out in the suburbs on a lot that will allow the homeowner to create a private back yard oasis.
After all, urban think tanks tell us that sprawl creates a larger carbon footprint. It is selfish and unrealistic to expect to live in your own private space, without sharing common spaces.
And yet somehow these experts also believe that packing people like sardines in the city – into tiny urban high and low-rise condos – creates less stress on natural resources. Of course, environmental and social impacts of overcrowding are conveniently ignored.
HOA Enemy #6: Protected Classes under Fair Housing Administration.
Yes, it’s 2016, and this country has come a long way since the Civil Rights and Feminists movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But discrimination still rears its ugly head all too often in Association-Governed Residential Communities.
Some HOAs are notorious for picking on the disabled, military families and veterans, the elderly, single women and families with children, and anyone who happens to be of a different racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic background than most of the community.
When blatant acts of discrimination are made public, the HOA typically responds with:
We’ve bent over backwards to work with the homeowner / resident, and it hurts us deeply that we stand accused of discrimination.
The HOA usually settles out of court with a legal gag order, so they do not have to admit any wrongdoing, and so that they can keep the ugly details confidential.
The most remarkable thing about the 6 Common Enemies of the HOA Industry: not one of them creates a true threat to public health, safety, and general welfare. They merely create a threat to the dominance of HOA corporate stakeholders.