NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Homeowners Associations are Growing

July 29, 2003

About one in six people in America, or roughly 50 million residents, lives in a community governed by a homeowners association, from co-op buildings in New York City to suburban subdivisions. Formed to take care of the small tasks that fall through the cracks of municipal government, like picking up garbage and repainting curbs, some homeowners associations are asserting far broader powers, backed by local courts.

Cities and counties, which are reluctant to raise taxes to pay for services, have in many cases stepped aside, allowing associations to become de facto governments with increasing authority over daily life.

  • Homeowners associations collect dues, which finance a variety of improvements, including landscaping and playgrounds, and services, including security patrols.
  • The boards, composed of elected volunteers, dictate house paint colors, lawn-mowing schedules and parking policies for recreational vehicles.
  • The boards can fine residents who break these rules and, in some cases, foreclose on homeowners who cannot afford the monthly dues.
  • In Phoenix, an estimated 85 percent of new homes are built in communities governed by homeowners associations.
  • Gilbert, Ariz., about 25 miles east of Phoenix and the fastest-growing city in the country last year, according to the census, issues building permits only to developers who build within an association.

The growth of associations has created "a whole sector of people who don't use public services," said Evan McKenzie, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Homeowners who live in such communities, he added, "don't need local governments."

Source: Motoko Rich, "Homeowner Boards Blur Line of Who Rules Roost," New York Times, July 27, 2003.


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