A Brief History of the HOA: Part II

In the first installment we examined the evolution of the common interest development movement through the early 1960s, the point which arguably marks the beginning of the modern homeowners association (HOA) in America. We learned that the genesis of privatized residential government began with the publication of Ebenezer Howard’s 1902 book Garden Cities of To-morrow, which was a revised edition of Howard’s 1898 publication To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform.

Fast forward sixty years to 1962 and we find perhaps 500 HOAs scattered around the country according to author Evan McKenzie, who has documented the meteoric rise of private residential governance in his landmark book, Privatopia (Yale University Press, 1994). By this time planners, developers and bureaucrats were anxious to find ways to reduce the cost of development and the municipal maintenance costs anticipated for thousands of new subdivisions that were needed to satisfy the demand for housing that had been steadily increasing since the end of World War II.

To reduce development costs and calm the fears of local governments that were concerned about the cost of maintaining the expanding residential infrastructure, the concept of the common interest development (CID) was introduced into the discussion. The argument of planners was that by building residential communities with shared recreational amenities, parks and green-space it would allow developers to reduce the size of the lots within new subdivisions; which in turn would reduce the footprint of these “planned communities” thereby helping to mitigate the expanding suburban sprawl that was enveloping many cities.

Since the early 1960s the increase in the number of HOAs in the United States has been almost exponential. Between 1964 and 1970 the number of HOAs increased from less than 1,000 to an estimated 10,000 according to the Foundation for Community Association Research (FCAR).  Since 1970 the growth rate, while not as explosive as it had been during the decade of the 60s, has still been impressive. By 1990 the number of CIDs, including traditional single-family home subdivisions and attached housing schemes such as condominiums, patio homes and row houses, had grown to around 130,000 according to the FCAR.

Barely ten years into the new millennia the FCAR in 2009, estimated that number of HOAs in the U.S. was somewhere around 305,000! Clearly, as we entered the second decade of the new century the CID had become firmly entrenched as the predominant form of residential development in the country. While it is probably fair to say that Ebenezer Howard’s Utopian vision of planned communities with happily integrated residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural zones expanding concentrically from an idyllic residential core has never really been realized, what cannot be denied is the phenomenal growth in the number of HOAs and the growing acceptance of private residential governance in the United States.

As the number of HOAs has grown, so to has the number of people who find themselves living in privately governed residential communities. Whereas in 1970 there were an estimated 2 million people living in HOAs, by 2009 the number had grown to 60 million according a tracking poll conducted by Zogby International in January of 2010. Various estimates place the number of new homes that are located within some form of CID at 75% to 80% as of 2014 and in many of the larger urban areas of the country the percentage is even higher.

In the next installment of this series we will examine some of the key elements which make CIDs different from traditional residential subdivisions.