When my wife and I talked with our missionary son recently, he said he was glad to be in Carson City, Nevada, instead of Las Vegas. When I asked why, he said:
These communities often give missionaries a difficult time. Their ‘no soliciting’ doesn’t just mean no selling, but no visitors who haven’t been invited. Effectively these communities are off-limits to proselyting, and in cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, the Los Angeles area and much of the rest of the Southwest they make up huge portions of major cities, including entire areas that missionaries are assigned to. This means some missionaries have no where to tract. [I know, tracting isn't ideal, but if you don't have anything else to do...]
Of course, the problem isn’t just communities with gates. All sorts of communities have agreements to try to hold those living there to a variety of sets of rules, generally enforced by a homeowners association. The rules can sometimes be quite onerous, covering things like what time of day you can water your lawn, what colors of house paint are permissible, and where you can park your car, in addition to things that city ordinances cover, like how loud you can play music.
I have a lot of reservations with the whole system that creates these communities. Although legally they seem to operate as an association, established by contract, that each homeowner has entered into of their own accord, and in which each has a equal voice, there are aspects of these associations that bother me. The fact that the homeowner association agreement is tied to what is usually one of the most important investments in the homeowner’s life leads them to join the association even if they have reservations about the rules because it is necessary to purchase the property they want. As I understand it, the association agreement is set up by the real estate developer, not any group of homeowners, and probably represents the real estate developer’s idea of what the community should be like, instead of what the homeowners want. The homeowners go along because they want to purchase the home, and because the real estate people are the “experts.” The situation is perpetuated because the homeowners are required by the contract to include the homeowner agreement as a part of any future the sale of the home, thus guaranteeing that every house in the neighborhood is part of the association. You can’t buy a house in these neighborhoods without agreeing to be part of the association.
But problems arise when the homeowner later wants to do something that runs afoul of the rules. Most often the problem is with something like the color of your house, that seems a minor part of the agreement. While it bothers a home owner that they can’t do it, it probably doesn’t bother neighbors much, at least not enough for them to go to the homeowner association meetings and vote for a change in the rules. The homeowner’s only real option if he doesn’t like the agreement is to sell his home and move out of the neighborhood. Of course, in some cities it is sometimes difficult to find homes in a price range that are not part of one homeowners association or another.
I’m not suggesting that the homeowners aren’t in basic agreement with the idea. I’ll bet most of them think a homeowners association is a good idea, and in some cases are flattered at the idea that they can afford to live in an exclusive gated community. The conflict arises later when they think its a great idea to put flamingos on their lawn and the homeowners association says its against the rules.
The worst part, in my opinion, is this appeal to “exclusivity,” the desire to keep others out, to live in an artificial bubble with only those of the same class and income, and who share the same cultural assumptions. Under the guise of security (security probably better and less expensively provided by government), homeowners can feel justified in avoiding the poor, those “unworthy,” and even, in some cases, those from other cultures and even other races.
Interestingly, these homeowner associations share an attitude with those who oppose the location of many LDS Temples. Unlike many LDS Church members seem to believe, the opposition to LDS Temples usually isn’t from some anti-Mormon motivation. Its because the Temple doesn’t fit their perception of what they want in the neighborhood. Without rules created by a homeowner association, they fall back on zoning laws in an attempt to keep out what they perceive as a threat.
Also troubling is that these associations seem to be almost neighborhood governments, taking on roles that a town or city government has done in the past. Is it really desirable to let neighborhoods set up associations like this and essentially run their area separately from the city? How soon will they start asking for tax relief because they are running their own show? How far should they be able to go in running their own affairs?
I don’t know where this all leads. I’m not suggesting that anyone that lives in a “gated community” is necessarily evil. But I’m also not comfortable with the larger implications of these associations. It bothers me that they aren’t open to missionaries, that they are closed off from those that aren’t like the majority, and that they are so willing to impose their will on their neighbors unnecessarily.
But most of all, I’m not comfortable because I don’t know where the limits on what these associations can do, and in many cases they already seem to go too far in their restrictions.