Why haven't the 1983 HOA problems of America II been resolved?

  Robert Louv is a journalist and contributing editor for several magazines.  His book began as an assignment for the San Diego Union where his job was to cover long-range political and social trends.  He writes,

My emphasis is on the America II social agenda: the growing privatization of public services . . . . America II  is an examination and critique of underlying values and social issues, especially those that threaten traditional democratic values.

 

The America we know is dying, but a second America is rising from the body of the first. This second nation [is] America II. yesAmerica II is the shopping mall, condominiums and large, planned communities, private police forces and sophisticated residential security ystems.

This new nation of mini-governments populating the landscape that he calls America II, I simply call the New America of HOA-land. A nation that continues to beencouraged, supported and defended by a certain element of our society, whom I classified as neo-Americans to distinguish from neo-conservatives and neo-fascists.

 As an educated observer of the scene, Louv notes that, “In a single decade, condominiums and planned communities have given rise to an enormous number of private minigovernments” [sic]. And makes an astonishing announcement: “These minigovernments now outnumber all the other elected local governments (cities, towns counties).”  My research, from 2005 census data and CAI estimates, shows just under 19% of the population now live under the regulation of these mini-governments. 

Speaking of this new concept in housing, which Louv calls “capitalist communes, an inheritor of utopian thinking”, economist and Progressive Movement leader, Robert Ely “described it . . . as representing ideas alien to democracy: ‘It is not the American ideal.  It is  benevolent, well-wishing feudalism, which desires the happiness of the people, but in such a way as to please the authorities.”   

While Louv writes that “These communities bring built-in social structure and private minigovernments”,  buyers did accept the promotional brochures pushing the buying of “a lifestyle”. As one interviewed homeowner said, the HOA “harkens back to the old values of small town America; the idea of local control, of knowing your neighbors“, and “We’re not really involved”. Then there’s the justification that is still with us today: “Community Associations are here to protect our interests, not let the community deteriorate.  That’s not regulation; it’s common sense.”  And there’s the HOA sales director speaking of their “mavericks”:  “Some of these people are against what everyone else is for.  They get in all kinds of arguments about architectural control.”  Sounds familiar, don’t they? 

But, what happened to the dreams, the idealistic promises of a better, more democratic America?  The answer lies in the rationalization, that still exists today, “it’s the people.”  “If only they would follow the rules” and attend those CAI “educators”, now turned lobbyists, educational training seminars. These seminars are sponsored in many areas by local governments and several states’ have hired CAI for manager and director training  programs.  If only!

Other issues of governmental control and regimentation  were either ignored or dismissed by the believers.  At the time of publication of

America II in 1983, some 19 years had past since the 1964 publication of the  homeowner association “bible”, The Homes Association Handbook.  Three years later the Handbook was critiqued by researchers at the University of California in a Public Affairs Report.  Louv’s 27 year-old time capsule shows us that the problems with the HOA model are still with us, and that they were still occurring 10 years after the creation of CAI to solve these problems through education.  Either CAI is incompetent, or the problems are endemic to the HOA model, and reflect basic flaws with authoritarian homeowner association governance.

   

An authoritarian form of government is contrary to the expectations of Americans who have lived all their lives under a democratic government that places the rights and liberties first and foremost.  Louv agrees:

 

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of these communities is that they are controlled by private, democratic governments (community associations) that wield the kind of control over  people’s personal lives and tastes that, heretofore, most Americans would never have accepted from any government.    
 
Indeed, the control often reaches into intimate details of resident’s lives in ways that may be infringing on constitutional rights. [p.128].   We need to start asking some serious questions about how this new level of government affects democracy and freedom.
It is not the amenities, the landscaping, or the closeness of homes placed on smaller lots that have  been the serious causes of discontent and dissatisfaction with planned communities.  It has, and still remains, the oppressive, authoritarian HOA government based on corporate law rather than on constitutional law that  is the “root of all evil.”  I believe the failure to solve the problems with HOA living, from the very inception of HOAs to today, is a systemic defect in the HOA legal, social, and political basis, and, as the past 44 years attest, are insolvable.
 
  

There are existing alternatives to the governance of planned communities that do not permit these HOAs, currently operating as “independent principalities”, to secede from the Union; and still retain the local community privacy of amenities and community “ordinances.”

Notes 

1.  America II: The Book That Captures Americans in the Act of Creating the Future, Richard Louv, Penguin Books, 1983.

2.  Richard Theodore Ely (13 April 1854 – 4 October 1943) was an American economist, author, and leader of the progressive Movement who called for more government intervention in order to reform the injustices of capitalism. (Wikipedia).

 

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Published in: on February 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  

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