Are HOAs becoming suburban low-rent havens?

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


I read an interesting article a few days ago, written by Nathaniel M. Hood for Strong Towns. Hood wonders what will become of the growing population of people living in poverty, not in our cities, but in our suburbs, and, in particular in our HOAs.

In many parts of the country, Association Governed Housing associations have become the norm, not the exception. Anyone who believes that homeowners and condominium associations can escape these fundamental socioeconomic changes is delusional.

Hood makes the valid point that strict enforcement of HOA restrictions and rules is impractical in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are struggling to make ends meet. When you’re working overtime or two jobs to put food on the table and pay the utility bills, you just don’t have the time or energy  – let alone the extra cash – to make sure the lawn is perfectly green and weed free. And you might forget to put your trash can back in the garage on trash day.

Why must HOAs add to the stress of everyday life the threat of being fined by your homeowners’ association? Read the following article and see if you agree.



What will happen to Homeowner’s Associations in an America with increasing suburban poverty? It will be messy.

The Atlantic went so far as to label suburbs as “the new American Poverty”:

But the suburbs of Atlanta no longer hold just the promise of good schools, clean streets, and whitewashed homes with manicured lawns proudly displaying American flags. They are increasingly home to the very poor, who find themselves stranded in suburbs without the kind of transit or assistance that they might once have found in cities’ urban cores.

“56 percent of people in poverty now reside in a suburb. ”

The Brookings Institute estimates that since 2000, two-thirds of poverty increases have occurred in the suburbs and 56 percent of people in poverty now reside in a suburb. In places like Atlanta, that number grew by over 150 percent. In addition, most suburbs are ill-equipped to deal with these increases.


Now I’ll pick up where Nathaniel Hood left off, and take it one step further. HOA hell is not simply about the selective enforcement of picky and often unreasonable rules mandating too-good-to-be-true appearances.

Sometimes those rules directly affect your lifestyle choices, your personal safety, and your financial well-being. Imagine being harassed by your HOA for parking your pickup truck in the driveway, or being forced to pay thousands of dollars to landscape your yard to hide the wheelchair ramp you need for your disabled son, or being told you must repaint your house within the next few months, even if you think it isn’t necessary and you don’t have the money.

And an even larger looming crisis in aging Associations: crumbling infrastructure but not enough money in the HOAs reserve account (rainy day savings fund) to cover the cost.

Let’s face it, as many homeowners and condo association homes start to age, and the home and surrounding neighborhood becomes dated and worn out, owners that can afford to move to a better house do move on. But they often sell their “starter” homes and condos at a comparatively low price, to buyers that have to stretch to buy a home in the first place.

So when these new, less affluent homeowners are later faced with a special assessment for tens of thousands of dollars, most won’t have the money to pay up. That means one of two things – either the necessary repairs don’t get done or, if the owner cannot pay, he may lose his home to foreclosure by the HOA. The problem is so prevalent, though rarely talked about. But many experts call this the next housing crisis.

Neglected for too long, simply because a community’s homeowners cannot afford to pay increasing assessment levels, too many Associations eventually fail altogether. This blog has highlighted dozens of examples here and here.

Unfortunately, many uninformed Americans still cling to the Urban Legend that only the well-to-do live in HOAs.

Oxford Dictionary defines slum as:

1A squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people.
1.1A house or building unfit for human habitation.


The word slum certainly describes plenty of older, worn out, poorly maintained Association Governed Housing subdivisions and condominium projects. The question is, how de we revise national, state, and local housing policy to deal with the issue responsibly?





Suburbs and the New American Poverty
More people with low incomes now live outside of cities, and some areas are ill-equipped to deal with the influx of the poor.


New Census Data Show Few Metro Areas Made Progress Against Poverty in 2013

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