Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government
a book by Evan McKenzie
(our site's book review)
McKenzie’s book looks at the tendency of homeowner/condominium associations to regulate excessively, bringing to mind the Tofflers’ concept of socially necessary order versus surplus order (from Powershift). Global opinion is growing less tolerant of regimes that exercise surplus order. It is realized that socially necessary order is good for everyone but surplus order is imposed only for the good of the ruling party. By the same token, Common-Interest Developments “. . . feature a form of private government that takes an American preference for private home ownership and, too often, turns it into an ideology of hostile privatism.” Preservation of property values is the highest goal, and there is rigid, intrusive and often petty rule enforcement, and the operable religion is conformity for its own sake. Lawsuits and threats substitute for civil communications. (In a Common-Interest Development, the condo owner has rights to an undivided interest in common areas and amenities which might prove to be too expensive to be solely owned.)
Lawsuits and threats substitute for civil communications in Common-Interest Developments
Homeowner association housing in Common-Interest Developments is of several types: Planned-Unit Developments are single-family detached homes. Condominiums are usually multi-family buildings. Cooperative apartments are converted apartment buildings in which owners have a share of stock in the entire building and an exclusive right to a particular unit. Each of these three forms of housing have common ownership of property, mandatory membership in a homeowner association, and required following of association guidelines. The governing board is elected by the residents, aided by committees. It’s actually a private government, and it has more power over its members than does the city in which they reside.
In the author’s opinion, Common-Interest Developments exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems of big cities. They were intended to do the latter, but they fail. They compete with cities for the affluent, siphoning off their tax dollars, expertise and participation in the community. This has been noted by Robert Reich in The Work of Nations and Richard Louv in America II. Even Charles Murray has expressed dismay at this trend. It can be considered a form of secession, and it contributes to the deterioration of cities—especially inner cities. And it is a step towards feudalism, with little gated-community enclaves as the privileged estates of the overlords and deteriorated cities full of poverty as serfs, since the gated communities hire guards, maids, lawn mowers, pool cleaners and other services that employ the less affluent. (It may only be a step in this direction, but some see it as one small step for the enclave residents—one giant step for feudalism kind.)
Welcome to feudalism, with gated-community enclaves as the privileged estates of the overlords and deteriorated cities full of poverty as serfs
On the other hand, the Urban Land Institute contends that the homeowner association is an ideal tool for building better communities. It’s urban planning to mitigate the evils of cities. Local control of nearby facilities gets them “. . . participating actively in the life of their neighborhoods.” McKenzie disagrees, saying that Common-Interest Developments are not really voluntary for many members who are there because of price, location or limited options. “Such members may not perceive the rules as sensible or government by neighbors as legitimate. Consequently, CID governing bodies make up for their lack of moral authority by relying on the coercive power of the public legal system for rule enforcement.” Sociologists studying California CIDs found that a sense of community is not what they foster. Instead, a culture of non-participation evolved that linked the ownership of private property with freedom, individuality and autonomy rather than responsibility to the surrounding community. “CIDs represent the de facto privatization of local government services for the few.” They cause divisiveness, litigation and polarization, and violate the notions of liberal democracy, he says.
Feudalism, unfortunately, is coming regardless of how Common-Interest Developments exacerbate the problems of big cities. The U.S. has already degenerated into a Corporatocracy and an Oligarchy, and Feudalism is the next logical step in the progression. The oligarchy has directed the corporatocracy to drain most of the wealth from all U.S. citizens that are not rich. We'll soon be a two-class society. The rich will have so much power and wealth they'll use our troops to both guard the rich and enforce wealth seizure when citizens resist. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act used to be only used against organized crime when it was passed in 1970. However, since then RICO has expanded and it can now be used not only against the Mafia and other criminal organizations but it can be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions, and loosely knit-groups of people. Literally, a RICO claim could be based upon the activities of any group or organization whose members pursue a common goal. As you can see, the oligarchy will have no difficulty using tools such as RICO to enforce wealth seizure when citizens resist, using private armies, U.S. troops, Blackwater-type mercenaries, etc.
So feudalism will include gated-community enclaves as the privileged estates of the overlords and deteriorated cities full of poverty as serfs, who will work for the rich. The serfs will have few rights but will simply learn to do as they're told. Rebellion will incur harsh penalties since it will be considered treason. At least there will be no unemployment—the rich will see to it that people work or they starve.
We haven't reached the feudalism stage yet, but you'll know it when we do. You'll often be told to jump, and your response will always be the same: "How high, Sir?"
McKenzie admits that increased density and cooperative living arrangements are probably needed, especially to meet the needs of the less affluent: “I think that new forms of private home ownership and rental involving common property should be explored.” (Think MC, where the hub may indeed have common ownership, although this is not necessary. See Why Register for an MC?.)
Registering for MC search and match
He acknowledges the wisdom of Herbert Gans, who advocates “. . . selective homogeneity at the block level and heterogeneity at the community level . . .” to lessen conflict and increase neighborhood relationships. (After all, people approach one another out of social desire and commonality—they don’t do it because some liberal sociologists think it’s their politically correct duty.)
MC with Condominium: This is an example of an MC design utilizing existing condominium units and child-safety-centered connecting walkways. An unoccupied part of one of the units serves as the focus of connectedness for the MC.