March 12, 2009

This has not been an easy couple of days. Our neighborhood homeowners' association is due to transition away from developer to homeowner control, something that people have been wanting for more than a year. But, in order to do this, we need to elect an all-homeowner board.

I've been very flattered that so many of my neighbors think I would make a good board member. I'm floored by the number of people who just randomly say, if you run, I'll vote for you. The last time I ran for anything, I was in junior high, and I lost the election to someone with better hair and a boyfriend. It's sort of colored how I look at my personal "electability"...

But as flattering as it all is, I don't think I want to be on the board, despite the number of association committee meetings, board meetings, and other meetings I've attended in the last three years, despite the fact that just about anyone in the community can ask me where someone lives, who's doing what, and why a certain corner was recently spread with topsoil before visibly dealing with the weeds that were growing there. I don't think it the time commitment, and it's not the other candidates, all of whom will make a wonderful board that I'd be honored to be a part of.

The board's job is to "protect, preserve and manage" the "real property" of the association. This is generally being interpreted as "protecting property values". Not that I'm against appreciation of property values, but that's not the main reason we bought our home. We moved here (a) because it was a home we could afford, (b) because it was built in a green manner that resonated with our principles (energy efficient, low VOCs, etc), and (c) because it was in a neighborhood that also resonated with our principles (pedestrian and transit oriented, mixed use, mixed income, etc).

I'd much rather see the board focus on fostering community and increasing livability for all community members. Focusing on property values seems to me to be a way of keeping things from looking "poor". If the association maintains everyone's front yards, then nothing will be unkempt, which looks "poor". In fact, lots of rules in the name of property values appear to be really about preventing things from looking poor, or about keeping the poor people poor. We're a mixed income neighborhood with a sizable population of folks in subsidized housing. Shouldn't we be encouraging them to do all they can to move out of poverty and out of subsidized housing, instead of enforcing rules that make it look like we're all happily upper middle class?

I think the association should maintain the parking strips, but stay out of homeowners' front yards. I think people should be allowed to install raised beds in their front yards if that's where the best vegetable growing sun exposure is. I think clotheslines should be encouraged. I think everything is a special case and that worrying about "precedent setting" is penny rich and pound poor. I think the association should support reserve funding and common exterior maintenance services (gutters, etc) for attached homes only - but only those services that would pose an immediate potential danger to the owners of units attached to that of a person who chooses not to take care their property (ie, someone opts to not clean the gutters of their unit, the gutters get clogged with leaves and can't drain, causing flooding on an adjacent property or get heavy and pull away from the entire group of buildings.)

I suppose this is an argument for me actually being on the board. I clearly have opinions on how things should be done and changes I'd like to see made. But sometimes things have to be done outside the system. When was the last time a rule-making body made a rule that charted out the territory ahead of where popular opinion was? Governing bodies are supposed to formalize the changes that the people want, that the people are already making. I'm feeling drawn to smaller scale projects right now, being the change and all that. I will likely be involved with the new Community Kitchen and sewing class initiatives. I think the neighborhood needs a bulk food buying club, and I think that if the City's P-Patch folks can't expand our p-patch this spring, interested parties should get out there with shovels and do it ourselves.

If I think of me on the board, I can see that I would represent a specific, unrepresented builder as well as people who've been part of the neighborhood the longest. I've been so involved in the association for so long, I'd be an element of continuity and a resource for the new board on their learning curve. I would likely be a minority voice, perhaps for a valuable perspective. But if I think of me on the board, my stomach gets all tangled up. My shoulders knot up. And I'm immediately exhausted. I think my gut might be trying to tell me something. Perhaps that it's time I took a break from association things.

So, I'm not going to run for the board. I hope I'm not letting too many people down.


  1. That's a tough decision. I think you made the right call - your instincts told you that you'd hate being on the board.

    Our condo board is very similar, wanting things to look sterile so they don't look poor. It's frustrating and stressful.

  2. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Thanks for making me feel not crazy. You beautifully expressed how I feel about our condo board. I usually just get angry, but you're very practical and involved. I think you'll find you're making the right decisions. Good luck!