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Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government

Evan McKenzie
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 254
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Condominiums, co-ops, planned unit developments of single-family homes-these and other forms of common interest housing developments (CIDs) have become a familiar sight in America. Currently there are approximately 130,000 of these developments, housing some 30 million people. Residents are required to belong to homeowner associations, pay monthly fees, and live under the rule of residential private governments. These governments perform functions for their residents that were once the province of local government, providing, for example, police protection, trash collection, street maintenance, and lighting. They also place restrictions on ownership of property and enforce rigid and often repressive codes of conduct governing the most private aspects of residents' lives.This book is the first comprehensive study of the political and social issues posed by the rise of CIDs. Evan McKenzie shows how the developments diminish residents' sense of responsibility for the city as a whole by making them reluctant to pay taxes for the same public services that their fees provide. McKenzie also shows that the private governments of CIDs depart from accepted notions of liberal democracy, promoting a unique and limited version of citizenship that has serious implications for civil liberties. He argues that the spread of CID housing has important consequences for politics at all levels of government, because CID advocates now constitute a significant force in interest group politics in many states, often organizing to demand tax breaks or credits for CID residents. Tracing the history of CID housing from the nineteenth century to the present, he highlights the important but little-understood role public policy has played in advancing this large-scale "privatization for the few," and he concludes by considering the implications for urban politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15694-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. 1 From Garden City to Privatopia
    (pp. 1-28)

    In 1898 a forty-eight-year-old English court stenographer named Ebenezer Howard borrowed from a friend a copy of Edward Bellamy’s utopian novelLooking Backward. “This I read,” Howard said, “at a sitting, not at all critically, and was fairly carried away by the eloquence and evidently strong convictions of the author.”¹ Howard became a convert to Bellamy’s belief that a perfect society was within humankind’s immediate reach.

    The novel is the narrative of Julian West, a Bostonian who in 1887 seeks relief from insomnia at the hands of a hypnotist, only to awaken in the year 2000. He discovers that society...

  5. 2 Restrictive Covenants and the Rise of Common-Interest Housing
    (pp. 29-55)

    In 1928 Charles Stern Ascher—lawyer, political scientist, city planner—had the task of finding a legal way to create a private city for the affluent within the borders of an existing political jurisdiction. He found the answer in what he called variously “private government,” “government by contract,” or “extra-municipal administration,” an entity created and administered through a comprehensive scheme of private deed restrictions known as restrictive covenants.¹

    Ascher did not invent deed restrictions, which had long been used in England and the United States, nor did he first prescribe their use as tools of exclusion. His contribution was to...

  6. 3 From Exclusivity to Exclusion: Homeowner Associations in the Suburban Housing Boom
    (pp. 56-78)

    From 1920 through 1929 more than seven million housing units were started, more than during any previous decade in American history.¹ Flush from that decade of growth, Jesse Clyde Nichols and other major builders were eager to expand their operations by engaging in large-scale construction of homes for the middle and working classes, using the cid model developed in upscale subdivisions like Radburn. But the depression and World War II delayed that ambition for fifteen years. Housing starts plummeted to 2.7 million for the decade of the 1930s and to 2.3 million from 1940 through 1945.²

    As soon as the...

  7. 4 The Expansion of Privatopia: Land Economics and the Legacy of Ebenezer Howard
    (pp. 79-105)

    Common-interest housing first was used to create exclusivity, and later it became an instrument of exclusion. A boom in cid housing construction that began in the 1960s built on those dynamics but was fueled primarily by the impersonal forces of land economics. An examination of these forces is critical to understanding why such a venerable housing concept suddenly became so popular among builders, and why we may expect cids to be the predominant form of new housing for the foreseeable future. Put simply, cids have become a way of squeezing more people onto less land.

    By 1960 a consensus was...

  8. 5 The Community Associations Institute: The Care and Feeding of Residential Private Governments
    (pp. 106-121)

    By the early 1970s large-scale real estate developers had established the professional and legal architecture for mass-producing common-interest housing developments. Community builders and government officials had agreed that cid housing was not a novelty but the preferred solution of the building industry concerning difficult problems of land-use economics.

    Through the Urban Land Institute and the National Association of Home Builders developers could obtain publications detailing exactly how to design and build standardized cids that would be approved by fha, drawing on the accumulated wisdom and experience of community builders from Jesse Clyde Nichols’ era to the present. uli could provide...

  9. 6 Homeowner Associations as Private Governments
    (pp. 122-149)

    Like other corporations, homeowner associations have full legal rights, limited responsibility for the individuals who operate them, a potentially infinite lifespan, and a dedication to a narrow private purpose—in this case, protection of property values. In carrying out this purpose, homeowner associations function as private governments.

    Private government is an idea with a long pedigree in political theory. References to private associations as governments within a government begin at least as early as the seventeenth century, when Thomas Hobbes wrote of private “systems” within the body politic—the commonwealth—that are akin to the muscles of the body. Some...

  10. 7 CID Private Governments and the Law in California
    (pp. 150-174)

    The rapid spread of homeowner associations, and the activities of their private governments, created a number of complex social and political issues that needed resolution. The actions of developers in creating these regimes were undertaken as private initiatives. Ratification of the idea by the Federal Housing Administration, and passage of state laws that enabled creation of condominiums and other forms of cid ownership, did not mean that all the implications of cids spreading across the nation had been studied—only that fha and the states had endorsed new concepts in land planning. To the contrary: the growth of cid housing...

  11. 8 Conclusion: Reflections on Privatopia and the City
    (pp. 175-198)

    Samuel Johnson ends his novelRasselaswith a conclusion in which, he tells the reader, “nothing is concluded.” This final chapter is less an attempt to conclude than to discuss some of the broad themes raised thus far and particularly to consider some of the social and political consequences being wrought in urban America by the spread of cid housing.

    At the end of the nineteenth century, Ebenezer Howard envisioned a new kind of city that would, he believed, gradually transform society if enough of them could be built. His vision combined both physical planning and social engineering ideas. When...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 199-230)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 231-237)