By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Two recent reports by The Arizona Republic caught my eye over the weekend.
The city of Surprise is experiencing population growth, but, at the same time, a growing public divide among its residents.
In fact, the city is physically divided by the types of communities that exist north and south of one of its main thoroughfares, Bell Road. Retirees live in age-restricted communities to the north, while families rasing children live to the south.
Although practically all of Surprise consists of separate association-governed common interest communities, subdivisions serving primarily family households lack fancy recreational amenities. A quick check of Realtor.com reveals thousands of homes south of Bell Road in HOAs with minimal amenities – perhaps a walking or biking path and maybe a small playground – and relatively low assessments.
Of course, owners and residents of active adult and retirement communities have no intention of sharing their private amenities – golf courses, club houses, pools and spas, sports courts and more – for which they pay dearly.
Common sense tells us that most people will be unwilling to pay for that which does not benefit them directly.
Last year, when the city of Surprise proposed a bond to fund community improvements and recreational opportunities for its residents, HOA residents of lavish, resort style retirement meccas went to the ballot box in droves to vote “no” on using their tax dollars to benefit their Surprise neighbors.
Ironically, younger family households outnumber retirees, but most of them did not bother to vote, and therefore, the measure failed. Could it be that voters residing in their HOA cocoons rarely see the need for civic involvement beyond their own named subdivision? Do they not feel a part of the larger community, that is, the city of Surprise?
Surprise leaders sound off on tearing down city’s ‘Berlin Wall’ to unify residents
Jessica Boehm , The Republic | azcentral.com 10:17 a.m. MT Feb. 27, 2017
Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott stood before more than a hundred West Valley leaders on Wednesday and proclaimed the need to unite the diverse cross sections of her city in order to continue the northwestern suburb’s positive growth.
“We are business people, veterans, students. We are kids, young families and retirees. We represent high-income and mid-range earners, people living on a fixed income and some of our neighbors even struggle to make ends meet.
“And while our needs may be different, together as a community, we are all one Surprise,” Wolcott said in her annual State of the City address.
But getting residents to see themselves as one city hasn’t always been an easy undertaking in Surprise. Some residents and even community leaders have jokingly referred to Bell Road, the city’s main thoroughfare, as the “Berlin Wall.”
And not only are homeowner groups opposed to paying taxes for public infrastructure and recreational amenities, a substantial number of Surprise residents oppose living anywhere near tenants.
Apparently, some homeowners seem to believe that non-homeowners are somehow less worthy of having a decent place to live. Why wouldn’t someone want to commit to a 30-year mortgage and the ongoing responsibilities that come with owning a home? Well, they must be irresponsible, no-good, and possibly even criminals.
Once again, when you divide people into hundreds or thousands of planned communities, each serving a different housing market segment or niche, it should come as no surprise that an “us vs. them” dynamic permeates some of our fasted growing metropolitan areas.
Do apartments bring traffic, crime and low home values? Some Surprise residents think so
Jessica Boehm , The Republic | azcentral.com Published 9:35 a.m. MT Jan. 30, 2017 | Updated 7:19 a.m. MT Feb. 1, 2017
Panic shook a small Surprise neighborhood this month when residents received a postcard in the mail noting that a “high-density” apartment complex could be coming to an 11-acre dirt lot behind their community.
A flood of neighbors from the Sanalina community filled the City Council chambers on Jan. 17, asking the council to deny a zoning change that would allow apartments, although the council won’t vote on the issue for at least three months.
“These apartments will only add to an already existing traffic problem with speeding and volume inside our development,” Joe Carlie told the council.
“They will be coming into our community to use our playgrounds. … How are we going to stop folks from coming in and using our facilities and breaking them?” Lisa Terror added.
“One of our main concerns is not only traffic, but the possibility of increased crime,” Julie Helms said.
But the developer and rental experts say some of these concerns are misguided.
NexMetro Communities plans to build a complex that does not match up with traditional apartment buildings. For example, the 133-unit complex would be gated, single-story and consist of mostly detached homes with private backyards. Rent prices would be between $1,000 and $1,600 per month.
Full disclosure: at one point in my life, I was inclined to share some the irrational fears of panicked Surprise homeowners. But after years of educating myself on housing issues, and renting for several years after selling one home and before relocating to a different state, I now know better.
There are plenty of legitimate, non-nefarious reasons why some people prefer to rent rather than own, and why someone would consciously choose to be a tenant rather than a homeowner.
And believe me when I tell you that owning a home does not necessarily make a person more responsible or more neighborly, just by virtue of his or her personal choice and ability to purchase real estate.
You see, this nation’s irrational obsession with property values has been carefully cultivated by the real estate industry, most especially the segment of the industry that promotes homeowners and condominium associations and planned communities in general.
But the unintended consequence of pursuing ever higher property values is an erosion of social values such as caring about our neighbors and the larger community beyond our own little members-only associations.