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Monday, April 18, 2005

Is a Gated Community for You?

Eight of ten new developments in the US are gated. Estimates indicate that as many as 7 million American households (or 6% of all US households) are in Gated Communities. This trend continues because far too many people fall in love with the dream without investigating the realities of life behind the gates. As more and more studies reveal the downside to fortress-mentality living, local governments are starting to take a new look and are enacting restrictions on these very restrictive communities.

Before you invest in life behind the gates, find out if it fits.

Is this you?

You like the sense of prestige a gated community provides.

You have several desires: (1) security (2) secure property values, (3) amenities, (4) low maintenance, (5) neighbors like yourself, and (6) a nice looking neighborhood.

You have a strong fear of crime and outsiders driving through your neighborhood are generally unwelcome. Safety and your need for a sense of security are much stronger than your need for freedom or individual self-expression.

When it comes to your neighborhood, you don’t like surprises. You like the idea of uniformity of rules and appearance in your neighborhood.

You have a reduced desire for social contact because you do not feel a larger identity with the region outside of your neighborhood.

You have a strong need for privacy.

You prefer to avoid conflict are not overly interested in getting too close to your immediate neighbors.

You prefer to live in a neighborhood of social and economic homogeneity – where everyone is at or near the same age, the same social-economic level, and there is little diversity.

You don’t mind that gated communities come with homeowners associations with strict covenants, contracts, and deed restrictions that regulate most aspects of your home and environment.

You are willing to be patient and are not too concerned about police, ambulance, or local fire departments response delays due to your remote location and/or gates.

You don’t mind that the homeowners’ association, in many cases, is responsible for services that the city or country would normally provide, such as streets, sidewalks and park maintenance.

You don‘t mind that the homeowners' association constitutes a private ''pseudo-government'' that often supplants many citizens’ homeowner rights and the services provided by surrounding local governments.

You don’t mind that, in most cases, there will be multiple liens attached to your home and land that come with duties and responsibilities to your gated community. If you default, you will be subject to fines (often with the highest interest rate the law allows) and, if you fail to pay, you can even have your home foreclosed.

You are financially prepared to pay ever escalating maintenance fees yearly in addition to your regular property taxes.

You are not concerned that children raised in gated communities may come to depend on walls and gates to feel safe.

You don’t mind that if you decide to sell your gated community home, some associations limit how a home may be marketed. (For example, 79% of home sales in upscale golf communities are sold by developers' in-house sales staff without using outside real estate agents.) In any case, agents will have difficulties marketing and showing the home or having an open house due to restrictions on signs and gate restrictions against open visitors.

Gated Community Facts

There is little evidence that gated communities are any safer than other communities. Gates only offer a perceived, or false, sense of safety. Some studies have found that gated communities actually increase fear. There’s also a side effect of gates. Gates present a concentration of wealth and actually create opportunities for crime. Because gated communities are no safer than other neighborhoods, residents of gated communities often become disillusioned with being overly insulated and restricted.

Are property values higher in gated communities? The jury is still out. When it comes to finding out about property values, most of the statistics gathered about community interest developments, including gated communities, have been compiled by self-interested trade groups that promote community interest associations, such as the Community Institute of America.

Residents of gated communities generally have a lower sense of community than residents in other communities and neighborhoods. Why? Gated communities usually generate a sense of exclusion and social segregation. Gated communities create an inward-focused community culture of self-interest which often generates tension between the community and surrounding neighborhoods and the larger community.

Problems and disputes with neighbors appeared in several studies of Gated Communities and general levels of neighborliness were perceived to be quite low.

There is the tendency of gated communities to act as predators of public resources to the exclusive use of the gated community residents.

Gated communities often incorporate as a city of their own (which acts as an extension of the Property Owners Association) in order to prevent a potential annexation by another and less affluent community looking for of an extended tax base.

As more and more gated communities withdraw from local services and vote to opt-out of local tax systems, state and local governments are now recognizing that these associations actually are “private local governments.” These private local governments are corporations where the Bill of Rights and other American public freedoms do not exist.

More and more cities and municipalities are now passing ordinances making it illegal to install a gate on any private road or on any private driveway. The most active opposition to gating comes from local fire departments worried about response delays. In addition, cities and municipalities are very concerned about street connectivity, the loss of open public space, and that gated communities, based on economic class, actually foster a sense of fear where crime is actually low. In Texas, SB 200 has been introduced this session to regulate vehicular or pedestrian gates.


Reading Resources:
· Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America by Setha Low
· Privatopia : Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government by Evan McKenzie
· Building Suburbia : Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 by DOLORES HAYDEN
· Urban Enclaves : Identity and Place in America (Contemporary Social Issues) by Mark Abrahamson
· Edge City : Life on the New Frontier by JOEL GARREAU
· The Celebration Chronicles : Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town by ANDREW PHD ROSS

FYI: At least 50 million Americans now live in some kind of private government community interest association: a homeowners’ association, property owners’ association, condominium association, etc. As Samuel Adams put it, they “love wealth better than liberty” and the “tranquility of servitude.” But, what began as a way of ensuring property values has left little choice for those Americans who still place the highest value on our hard-won freedoms. The American dream of the property rights and privileges of homeownership is fast disappearing!

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