By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Jefferson County, Missouri, is joining the nationwide de-privatization trend. With regard to the utter failure of private homeowners’ associations to adequately maintain infrastructure, Jason Jonas, Public Works Director for the County, “gets it.”
Today’s referenced article is a refreshingly frank discussion of reality. HOA boards are generally clueless when it comes to maintaining private roads and bridges. HOAs rarely save enough money for road repair and resurfacing — they barely pay for plowing snow and pothole repair. As private organizations, they don’t have access to road and traffic engineers or contractors capable of doing road work.
Not mentioned by Jonas, but also a practical problem: road contractors aren’t that interested small jobs, typical of HOAs. Road repair contractors that are willing to work on one or two roads at a time charge a premium price. And, let’s face it, HOA contractors tend to be “preferred vendors” chosen by community association management companies, or friends and family of board members in smaller, self-managed communities.
So, are homeowners getting a fair price, or are they paying inflated rates for “referral fees” or kickback schemes?
I hear from many readers with this specific complaint!
And then there are the issues of poor quality service, unlicensed or shady contractors that don’t finish the job they’ve started, and a lack of accountability from both the contractor and the board that hired them.
HOAs do an equally poor job of maintaining private sewer and water utilities, storm water management systems, and dams that contain private lakes. Here on IAC, you’ll find dozens of posts on these topics, citing articles and television reports of homeowners,’ condominium, and cooperative housing associations in planned communities, dealing with crumbling roads, washed out bridges, chronic flooding caused by poor drainage, sewer backups, and poor water quality.
Sounds like utopia, right?
Reading between the lines…
While it’s generally good news that Jefferson County recognizes the error of its ways — approving dozens of planned communities with private roads over the past four decades — notice that Jonas says the County isn’t interested in taking on maintenance of roads more than 20 years old.
Even though 30-40 year old association-governed communities are most in need of assistance, their roads are too far gone. Jonas says that repairing these crumbling roads would bankrupt the County.
So, what are homeowners in mature HOAs supposed to do?
Chances are, Jefferson County will follow another emerging trend — establishing Special Districts designed to tax property owners for bringing their private roads up to current building code, so that the Municipality, County, or State can then accept those roads for ongoing public maintenance.
Those homeowners are likely to face some tough choices: fork over huge HOA special assessments, finance repairs with expensive HOA loans, or agree to pay higher property taxes, with County assessments spread out over 10 to 20 years.
Of the three options, working with the County seems to be the least of evils.
Jonas claims that adding 150 miles of private roads — the ones that are still in decent condition — won’t lead to tax increases. But, he admits that the County intends to tap into its share of state fuel tax dollars in order to keep that promise.
What happens when state fuel tax dollars won’t stretch far enough to repair roads in dozens, if not hundreds, of currently maintained by HOAs? A fuel tax increase seems likely in the state of Missouri. I’d bet on it.
Government leaders and housing policymakers, take note. For nearly five decades, the HOA industry has misled you into believing that privatization of infrastructure — both construction and maintenance — by a patchwork of planned community subdivisions, would save local and state government taxpayers a great deal of money and make housing more affordable.
But, in the long run, governments are left to deal with deteriorating neighborhoods, while housing has become much less affordable.
Meanwhile, housing consumers have been sold on the promise that HOAs exist to protect and enhance property values. It’s not as if home buyers are willing to pay a premium price for property in neighborhoods with crumbling roads and failing bridges.
ICYMI: County looks to take over 150 miles of private streets
Jefferson County officials are looking to assume control of up to 150 miles of subdivision streets that are now under private ownership.
Public Works Director Jason Jonas said his department has begun accepting applications from subdivision homeowner associations that want the county to take over maintenance of their streets.
“We’re already reviewing two of the applications,” Jonas said, “and we’ve got another three or four considering it. And I’ve talked with maybe a half-dozen more.”
Assuming control of subdivision streets is a step forward for Jefferson County, which has never done so before, Jonas said.
Many other counties, on the other hand, do. For example, St. Louis County maintains about 600 miles of subdivision streets, and St. Charles County maintains 285 miles of those kinds of streets, Jonas said.