By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The real estate industry doesn’t often disclose one of the dirty little secrets about association-governed communities: an increasing number of once thriving communities are in serious financial trouble.
One example is Pine Ridge. Its homeowners’ association governs a private community located in Lehman Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania. According to a 2016 report in the Pocono Record, “2,729 individuals live in the community that has 1,121 housing units.”
At that time, according to the report, although 70 percent of homes in the community were owner-occupied, hundreds of homes were vacant, many due to bank foreclosures. The manager of Pine Ridge reported that 405 homeowners had not paid their HOA assessments for months or years, leaving the community association with a $450,000 budget deficit.
Fast forward two years later. Pine Ridge still has delinquent assessment accounts, although management isn’t saying how many homeowners haven’t paid. In March, the HOA asked its members in good standing to raise their $850 annual assessments by $75, to cover a budget shortfall. But members rejected an increase.
So the HOA is apparently at its wits end trying to figure out how to collect money from owners who still haven’t paid their fees in years.
And, just when I thought I’d heard every possible story about HOA collection tactics, I stumbled across this report. Someone in Pine Ridge HOA has decided to use the community’s electronic message board to display a list of addresses of homeowners on the “delinquent” list. The board is located near the entrance of Pine Ridge, where residents pick up their mail and where children board the school bus every morning.
Although the message board isn’t listing names, it’s relatively easy to look up the street addresses and find out who owes money to the HOA. One homeowner interviewed by the Pocono Record says the HOA is violating the privacy of its members.
Pine Ridge video board sparks debate
By Bill Cameron, Pocono Record
Posted Aug 31, 2018 at 5:04 PM
Updated Aug 31, 2018 at 5:04 PM
BUSHKILL — Residents of Pine Ridge, a private community in Lehman Township, may be extra wary of falling behind on their membership dues this year.
As of 5:38 p.m. Thursday, the homeowners’ association was posting the addresses of its delinquent members, along with the amounts owed, on an electronic billboard near the community’s entrance. That same site is also the location of the development’s mailboxes and bus stop.
“I am completely horrified by this and don’t understand how this can be legal,” Amanda Crane, a Pine Ridge resident, wrote in a Thursday evening Facebook message. “I feel that this is an invasion of people’s privacy, especially when broadcasted on a digital screen down at the bus stop where all the kids will see it and be able to make fun of other kids for their parents not paying their dues or be embarrassed of their own address being publicized.”
Anthony Cordero, the president of Pine Ridge’s board of directors, said on Friday that the association has been in constant contact with its attorney regarding an ongoing delinquency problem. He declined to comment on the decision to publicize the addresses via billboard.
The private community, although not gated, is not open to the public.
Apparently, Anthony Cordero and fellow board members of Pine Ridge think they can shame nonpaying owners into bringing their accounts current.
But it’s doubtful this tactic will work, given the long history of distress at Pine Ridge and several other Pocono region private communities.
In its heyday, Pine Ridge was one of several vacation and recreational private communities built in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. Homes surround Maple Lake, and residents have access to a community pool. Pine Ridge used to be a gated community, but due to scarcity of funds in its operating budget, according to this Pocono Record report, Pine Ridge permanently opened its gates and fired its security staff in 2009.
In 2008, the HOA was $200,000 in the hole and annual assessments were $725. Homeowners had just voted against an increase in fees for 2009.
The gates themselves have since been removed, replaced by a new bus stop area and the electronic bulletin board.
The HOA operates a bare bones website with limited public access. Current listings in Pine Ridge are priced well under $200,000.
Pine Ridge lacks money to make it through fiscal year (Pocono Record, October 5, 2016)
No help for failing Pine Ridge HOA (Related IAC post)
Most Pocono communities started out as summer camps and vacation resorts, and in the 1960s and 1970s, the region was a well-known honeymoon haven. Then in the 1990s and early 2000s, New York and New Jersey residents began purchasing year-round homes in Pocono communities. Eastern Pennsylvania offered much lower housing costs, lower crime, and better schools. City transplants were willing to make long daily commutes to their relatively lucrative jobs in New York and New Jersey.
By 2006, however, local news reported an infiltration of gang activity in several Pocono communities, including Pine Ridge, the site of a shooting by a member of the Crips.
Experts said that private, gated communities were safe havens for criminal activity, due to the absence of state and local police protection. Private security proved ineffective in preventing thefts and violence in many Pocono neighborhoods.
Gangs Infiltrating Pocono Mountains Region
Published August 06, 2006 Associated Press
With so many commuting to jobs in New Jersey and New York, teenage children are left unsupervised for hours at a time after school. Bored teens who have little to keep them occupied can be easy pickings for gang recruiters, experts say.
“People who moved from New York and New Jersey into the gated communities, some of the youngsters decided they were going to get together and try to imitate the gangs,” said Marut, the state police commander. “From there, it kind of mushroomed, with outside people coming in from New York City who were actual gang members trying to organize people.”
Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and MS13, a Latino gang, all have a presence here, authorities say. As of early August, 61 confirmed or suspected gang members were locked up in Monroe County Prison — up from just 25 at the end of last year.
Gang members know that gated communities are not patrolled by state troopers or municipal police, but by private contractors. Because these communities are private property, police may enter only under specific circumstances, such as pursuit of a fleeing suspect.
Soon after reports of crime and gang activity began to surface, the Pocono region was hit hard by the recession that began in 2007-2008. Hundreds of homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure in Pine Ridge alone. HOA fees went unpaid, and banks allowed foreclosed homes to languish for years without maintenance.
Property values tanked. By many accounts, several Pocono communities have never fully recovered.
The full extent of Pine ridge HOA’s debt is not public record. Census date indicate that the violent crime rate in Pine Ridge remains higher than the national average.
Will public shaming of nonpaying homeowners on the electronic bulletin board help with collection efforts, or merely lead to additional neighborhood bullying and violence?