By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Many of my readers may be familiar with Evan McKenzie, Political Science professor at University of Illinois, legal consultant, and noted author of various academic publications and two books focusing on history and political issues surrounding Association Governed Residential Communities.
McKenzie maintains a blog, The Privatopia Papers, where he posts current events an opines on political issues affecting Common Interest Developments (CIDs). He often takes a Big Picture, “Macropolitics” view of the challenges faced by homeowners who reside in HOAs.
A few days ago, McKenzie posted the following blog addressed to dozens of HOA advocate organizations scattered across the US.
Thoughts on Micropolitics and Macropolitics
Here are some excerpts:
When I first started writing about CIDs, I realized that there were two sets of issues I wanted to write about, and I divided them into micropolitics and macropolitics. Micropolitics means all the things that go on inside associations that are ruled by private governments, and for me the most important issues have to do with the relationship between unit owners and their BOD. Macropolitics refers to the relationship between associations and the rest of society, such as governments and developers. One important issue of macropolitics is to what extend this type of real estate development contributes to segregation–by race, income, age, and other factors.
I think if owner activists tried to link their causes with those of other interest groups that have larger concerns and broader constituencies, such as consumers, seniors, affordable housing advocates, for example, it would make their activism more effective. It would help to dispel the spoiled rich suburbanite/gated community stereotype.
Read the entire post here:
Overall, I agree with McKenzie’s point about focusing more on macropolitics. That’s why I cover many of these issues in articles on my blog. For example, I often ackowledge the fact that many CIDs these days consist of more than 30% tenants. Tenants have rights, too, and, as I have often noted, those rights are also being trampled on in Association Governed Residential Communities. On many occasions I have highlighted examples of failed condo communities and the social and economic repercussions. Here on IAC, I have written about global issues of housing affordability, discrimination against HOA residents, and the spill over effects of poor storm water maintenance (such as failed dams) in HOAs on neighboring communities. The article I recently posted about a non-HOA owner being sued by the neighboring HOA got a lot of attention!
It’s also true that affordable housing politics feeds into CID politics, and there is considerable overlap on the issues and concerns facing both cohorts, in my opinion. It seems to me that the vast majority of Association-Governed homes are in affordable or moderately priced communities. (Of course, no one knows for sure, since the US Census doesn’t track this information, and there’s no hard data — only extrapolated estimates.) Likewse, a significant percentage of CID residents are seniors. In fact, Assisted Living and Active Adult communities cater entirely to seniors. And seniors are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of HOA bullies, dysfunction, and financial mismanagement.
With regard to the CID’s, HOA’s absolute right to collect assessments, McKenzie goes on to opine:
How can you claim to be an advocate for owner interests if your burning passion is to see associations disintegrate financially from being unable to collect overdue assessments? The owners you claim to care about are the ones who would get hurt. The issue is not whether they should be able to collect assessments from every owner. Of course they should, because the owners who pay end up carrying the burden of those who don’t.
I agree that Associations need to collect money for essential services – such as maintenance of roads, storm water facilities, private wells, and exterior maintenance of multifamily structures in condo associations. But not all of the services provided by HOAs are essential. At least part of those assessments are used to maintain non-essential recreational facilities and to enforce the Restrictive Covenants – often the source of conflict between homeowners and their HOAs.
So, on this point, I take an even more global view than McKenzie.
Thinking a bit outside the box, but not too far outside that box: Perhaps the portion of assessments allocated for essential services needs to be collected on the property tax bill, and the remainder should be optional.
But there is also another option. Why not shift the burden of providing essential services back to the public realm, and perhaps regionalize services to create better economies of scale?
While initial construction of infrastructure may still have to be accomplished in conjunction with private developers, ongoing administration and maintenance is another story. HOAs are often too inefficient and under-funded to maintain infrastructure to acceptable standards over the long term. It just isn’t prudent or responsible to dump this task onto volunteer homeowners who know nothing at all about “public works” or “public service administration.”
On McKenzie’s final point,
Finally–this type of housing is not going away. It is here to stay. In fact, it has been spreading all over the world….Developers, state legislators, lenders, and federal bureaucrats have institutionalized CID housing and will continue to be the norm in new construction in the years to come.
I disagree that CID housing here to stay – at least as currently structured – and that local governments will never again assume the role of creating and maintaining infrastructure. After all, many CIDs are, in effect, local governments or at least function as agencies of local government to a limited extent.
As CIDs age and mature, we are seeing more degradation of infrastructure, not less. Like it or not, local governments and American taxpayers will be on the hook for cleaning up blight and crime, condemning neglected multifamily housing structures, repairing roads, cleaning up after floods caused by poorly maintained storm drainage systems, and more.
It’s difficult to determine the fiscal impact and social costs of mass foreclosures, abusive HOA management practices, health and safety hazards created by poor quality mass construction, and the shift toward private security systems and Big Brother style surveillance in private communities.
The truth is, private developers and investors are not going to rescue thousands of dilapidated condominium and townhouse projects across the country. These housing projects were once intended as affordable homeownership, but have been inevitably transformed into sub standard rental housing for the have-nots and the disadvantaged.
Finally, Americans are not the sort of people to simply bow down and accept social injustice and political and economic chaos, simply because that’s the reality that years of corporate-government cronyism has worked so hard to create for us. It should be rather clear to the political elite by now that Americans are no longer willing to play by their rules.
So the issue becomes this, in my opinion: How do we better divide responsibilities for maintaining housing and communities between public and private sectors, while minimizing the requirement (mandates) for collective management? And how do we transform HOAs into voluntary organizations that enhance neighborhood cohesion and harmony, rather than mandatory associations that tend to tear people apart and polarize residents into perpetual Us vs. Them conflict?
That is our challenge.