In 1978, CAI was concerned about HOAs as mini-governments

I’ve written several times [1] on the utopian visions that had their role in the development of the planned community/HOA socio-political model of American society. Newly uncovered material, by me, sheds a brighter light on the idealism surrounding the promotion of the HOA model. The material comes from several new sources, all dealing with David B. Wolfe, president of Community Association Corporation (a property management firm) [2] and member of the founding team that created CAI in 1973 [3] . He is also the author of the joint ULI and CAI handbook, Condominiums and Homeowner Associations That Work on Paper and Action (ULI & CAI, 1978).

Richard Louv [4] writes of Wolfe, ‘David Wolfe, for one, holds to the original dream that these communities can bring people together rather than segment and restrict them.‘ He quotes Wolfe, “Not since the advent of the industrial revolution and its major society-impacting product, the automobile, has any event risen with so much potential for changing the American way of life” [5].  However, Mckenzie in Privatopia quotes Wolfe, ‘The common interest community is fundamentally a creature of land economics, and of man’s preference for owning his own territory. In an locale there is only so much land available for settlement. . When this condensing or stacking takes place, the means of owning one’s own territory must also be modified'” [6].   This statement reflects the more practical, business, property manager view of HOAs.

With respect to political and governmental concerns, Louv continues with, “Wolfe believed that ‘These new communities have the potential of giving us our roles back, allowing people to live and work in a way reminiscent of the small towns of a century or more ago.’ “

And the direct loss of direct town hall, face to face democracy would be redressed, as

“Wolfe believes, by the minigovernments that govern these post industrial villages, these capitalistic communes. But adds Wolfe, ‘the reality is different from the utopian dream.’ And suggests we take a very close look at that reality, because in the near future, many of us aren’t going to much economic choice about whether or not we live in one of these America II communities.” [7]. 

As a side thought, it seems that a utopian ideology, even the planned community affordable housing ideology, must have conformity and adherence to its principles in order to survive, especially if it mandates a behavior pattern at odds with the greater society in which it finds itself. HOAs require adherence solely to the goal of maintaining property values with individual rights and freedoms secondary. It is obvious then that the HOA must have a disciplined following, “true believers”, in order for it to survive amidst a democratic society as we have here in America. In a mass merchandising promotion and selling effort, as occurred with HOAs, it would become more and more difficult to obtain the necessary and sufficient numbers of true believers for problem free communities.

This very important and practical issue — the status and recognition of HOAs as a government — “remains a vexing issue for CAs“, as Stabile writes in 2000  [8], even today in 2010. Stabile sheds a bright light on this sensitive issue, referencing Wolfe’s 1978 handbook mentioned above.

“By the late 1970s, according to Wolfe, CAs had taken on many functions that resemble the provision of public goods much as local governments did. Whether this entitled them to the legal status of a government was open to debate within the CA movement and in the courts. Wolfe then presented both sides of the debate over the definitions of CAs as governments. One legal opinion offered in support of construing CAs as a government noted that the Supreme Court had required constitutional procedures in a ‘company town’ and with ‘political parties’ [Marsh v. Alabama, 1946]; from this view CA actions were ‘public’ in a constitutional sense. At the same time CAs were corporations . . . . Wolfe concluded that a new definition of a CA as a government was needed to bring about Lewis Mumford’s [9] vision of a democracy.” [10]. 

“In some cases, courts interpreted CAs as a business, but ‘with regard to individual rights and obligations, the courts may hold associations to the standards of public government law’. Legal cases were forcing them to do more . . . . ‘These suggest that the consideration and adoption of resolutions, in the manner associated with traditional governmental and political processes have a place in CA government’.” [11].

While these materials introduce a clearer picture of the history of HOAs and CAI, the important question on the governance model needs a little more light shed on it. I will be reviewing the Wolfe handbook in detail on the question of HOA governance; what was discussed and what were the conclusions at the time, in 1978. In this way, we can ask ourselves what went wrong with our government institutions and agencies that allowed these private, authoritarian governments to flourish. And maybe shed more light on whether the developers of the HOA legal scheme were putting one over the American people in their pursuit for profits.

1.  See Establishing the New America of independent HOA principalities, p. 78, 138; The Foundations of Homeowners Associations and the New America, p. 90.
2.  America II: The Book That Captures Americans in the Act of Creating the Future, Richard Louv (Penguin Books, 1983), p. 90.
3.  Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government , Dr. Evan McKenzie (Yale University Press, 1994) p. 112.
4.  Supra n.2, p.137.
5.  Supra n.2, p. 90.
6.  Supra n. 3, p.84
7.  Supra n.2, p. 92.
8.  Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing , Donald R. Stabile (Greenwood Press, 2000), p.167.
9.  Lewis Mumford followed early utopian community promoters, such as Ebenezer Howard’s vision of “garden cities” and “privatized street associations” under restrictive covenants. In 1928 Mumford, part of the Regional Planning Association of America, developed the Radburn, NJ planned community. The Radburn government was an HOA based on the city manager model. See Supra n.6, p.8-9.
10. Supra n.8, p.164.
11. Supra n.8, p. 166-67.

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 9:00 pm  Comments (1)  

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