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The Rise of Homeowner Associations: A Look at Private Governance in Florida and California

The Rise of Homeowner Associations: A Look at Private Governance in Florida and California

When picturing local government, one might imagine a quaint scene of a small-town mayor or a corrupt political machine. Typically, "local government" is seen as a public entity, but millions of Americans live under a different kind of governance: homeowner associations (HOAs).

What Are HOAs?

Homeowner associations, or HOAs, are private quasi-governments that provide local representation, taxation, and public services. These associations can range from a handful of homes to sprawling communities with thousands of households. When you buy property in an HOA territory, you automatically become a member, assuming all associated rights and responsibilities. Benefits might include shared services like trash collection, well-paved roads, and landscaped common areas. However, members also face strict regulations and dues. Even if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, members are typically stuck unless they move.

Florida: The Epicenter of HOA Governance

While California boasts the most HOAs (50,000), Florida has a higher percentage of residents living in HOA-governed communities. About 45% of Floridians reside under one of the state's 49,420 HOAs, compared to a little over a third of Californians.

A recent law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis aims to curb the power of these quasi-governments. The new legislation limits the extent to which HOAs can regulate and penalize individual households. The Guardian aptly described it as "curbing the Karens." Now, HOAs in Florida will no longer be able to set draconian rules about parking, garbage cans, or vegetable gardens. Furthermore, HOA board members will receive mandatory training to ensure better governance.

The Issues with HOAs

Despite these reforms, the larger issue lies with the HOA model itself. Critics argue that widespread HOA governance reinforces segregation, inflates housing costs, and depletes community resources. The origins of HOAs date back to the suburban boom of the late 1950s, with the first association formed in 1959 in Rossmoor, California. The model quickly gained popularity, growing from 10,000 HOAs in 1970 to around 365,000 by 2023, housing over 75 million Americans.

The Appeal and Criticism of HOAs

Historian Quinn Slobodian, in his book "Crack-Up Capitalism," describes gated communities managed by HOAs as a form of "soft secession," creating "alternative political arrangements at a small scale." This notion has attracted some market fundamentalists, despite the paradox of minimal-government proponents embracing a regulatory body that can dictate the minutiae of daily life.


While Florida's new law is a step in the right direction, it only smooths out the rough edges of the HOA model. To address the deeper issues, more comprehensive reforms are needed. Breaking the system of privatized governance could be essential for solving the housing crisis and achieving true community integration.


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