HOA governance does not value kindness, or even people
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Once in a while, I read an Editorial about association-governed communities (homeowner associations or HOAs) that just begs for a response.
From Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Kristen DeBoy Caminiti, a social worker turned stay-at-home parent, and founder of Crofton is Kind, writes a passionate plea for HOAs to operate with more common sense, and with an emphasis on the people who live in planned communities.
Caminiti and her family live in Wilson Grove, Gambrills, Maryland, where spacious new home prices start at $640,000. According to builder websites, community amenities include a Swimming Pool and Bathhouse, a Park and Playground, a Tennis Court, and Hiking and Biking Trails.
So, at first glance, a buyer would think the subdivision would be family friendly and neighborly. But, like so many other homeowners, Caminiti has discovered that the HOA marketing pitch does not reflect reality.
It turns out someone in the neighborhood does not like the swing set the family has set up in their own back yard. Nor do they have any use for creative expressions of kindness. You can read the details below.
Kristen DeBoy Caminiti: Are we letting HOAs rule our lives?
By Kristen DeBoy Caminiti, Capital Gazette
July y20, 2107
In 2015, my family and I purchased a beautiful new home in Wilson Grove in Gambrills. While we thought we were buying our dream home in a dream community, our excitement quickly turned to dismay after our first encounter with our community’s homeowners’ association.
After much anticipation, we put up a swing set in our backyard for our three children. Within 24 hours, someone in the community reported us for violating the HOA guideline that swing sets must be screened by trees to “have minimum visual and noise impacts on adjoining lots.” Since our lot was mostly wooded and our neighbors had no issue with our swing set, we thought the tree requirement wouldn’t apply.
Recently, we got another letter from our HOA that left me dismayed, disheartened and wondering what type of community we live in.
Now, I have to say that I agree with Caminiti on the basic premise that most modern HOAs have the wrong focus.
However, Caminiti and some other housing consumers share a common misconception: that HOAs covenants are somehow necessary and beneficial, and that HOAs can somehow be “fixed” to be more focused on promoting a true sense of community. Caminiti writes:
People shouldn’t be discouraged from purchasing a home because of overzealous HOA guidelines. Instead, we should fight to make our communities welcoming, inviting and kind.
I am not opposed to covenants and HOAs on principle. But I believe strongly that an HOA is there to provide guidelines and stipulations for when homeowners do something unsightly or disruptive. The rules should leave the community something to fall back on to address such issues, while maintaining the flexibility to respond to a diverse and changing community.
But the truth is an apple cannot be made to taste like an orange. The color red cannnot be made to look like the color blue.
The very foundation of association-governed common interest communities is antithetical to communities that are “welcoming, inviting and kind.”
That is because HOAs are all about preserving property values, not social values.
As I have written before, many housing consumers confuse the physical and social aspects of a residential community with its governance and management model. A homeowner association is not the community itself, it is merely one way that a community can be governed and managed. And that model is fundamentally flawed on many levels.
As a former owner of HOA property, and as someone who has been observing, studying HOA issues with both homeowners and industry proponents for several years, I have concluded that the portion of our real estate sector that promotes HOAs is not interested in a structural modification of its governance and management model.
For decades, residential community developers, home builders, community association trade group Community Associations Institute, Urban Land Institute, and Realtor associations have not only heavily promoted so-called “community associations,” they have also lobbied heavily at the state and federal level for housing policies and legislation that increase both the profit potential and the sphere of political influence of the common interest real estate industry.
On IAC, that fact is well documented by example.
A majority of stakeholders in the U.S. real estate industry are interested primarily in leading residential communities with corporate efficiency, despite the desires of a majority of homeowners and residents that care more about quality of life.
Restrictions that form the building blocks of HOAs are written from the perspective of developers (home builders or real estate brokers) interested in a healthy return on investment. That basic foundation remains long after the developer relinquishes corporate control of the association to non-affiliated homeowners.
That is, when and if the developer transfers control of the association. Sometimes the community provides ongoing revenue streams for a developer, either from a for-profit operation of the recreational amenities or perpetual management fees.
Since at least the 1980s, the real estate industry has been selling the notion that one’s home is a piggy bank, an investment in the future. With the right timing, home sellers can reap the benefit in a few “hot” real estate markets. However, rampant speculation and foolhardy lending policies in the past have resulted in a fragmented, volatile real estate market where many housing consumers barely break even or lose money when they sell their homes. The big winners in this market are the institutional investors, not the common consumer, not the American taxpayer.
So it is no surprise that most modern HOA and condominium associations are politically polarized between homeowners who just want a peaceful, enjoyable place to live and property owners who rarely or never reside in the community – the ones that treat their home or condo as an occasional vacation destination, an income property, and a financial investment.
It seems every HOA community has an influential group of short-term owners obsessed with maintaining a “show ready” appearance to maximize resale value. And for these unemotional, business-minded owners, there is no profit potential in kindness.
It bears repeating: an HOA or any kind of corporate residential association is not the physical or social community. It is merely one way to govern and manage that community’s affairs. And in the opinion of many homeowners like Caminiti, the HOA does not encourage or nurture community values such as kindness and social responsibility.
So the only way to promote kinder, gentler communities is to scrap the association-governance model, in favor of more traditional public models of local government, or perhaps resident centered cooperatives for individuals willing to make a commitment to active social participation in their communities.
It’s up to consumers and voting constituents to put pressure on the real estate market and local government leaders to provide an ample supply of residential housing choices without onerous restrictive covenants and HOAs that rule over our daily lives.