Are Gated Communities Moral?

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:

Gated Communities.

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.

58 comments for “Are Gated Communities Moral?

  1. Interesting. There are things I like and don’t like about gated communities. I don’t live in one now; mainly because in my area they are made up of identical, cookie-cutter houses with no lawns. That doesn’t appeal to me. I have an affinity for older houses (mine is about 100 years old) and brick streets.

    What does appeal to me is the fact that you wouldn’t have to worry about cars on blocks in your neighbor’s yards, houses are kept in better shape, and it tends to weed out some of the riff raff (is that how you spell it?). When I say “riff raff” I’m referring to people with ten cars in the driveway, super-loud music, ten dogs in the backyard, you get the picture.

    I have to come clean on something though, and admittedly, it’s totally hypocritical. I do want the missionaries to be allowed anywhere, but no one else!! I just have had a problem with people coming to my door lately. Like twice a day–I have this group of rough-looking men who ask once a week to trim the trees, magazine sales, bright house cable, verizon fios, a guy who wants to sell me oranges from his bike, etc. I hate it. And we have had problems with an armed robber in our neighborhood and crime lately, and I have three small children, so….I’m getting nervous. And I live in a small town!

    So, I’m not sure what the answer is to this post. I am sympathetic to the missionary’s plight. Sorry this comment is way too long.

  2. Sure, HOAs and zoning boards have discretion that can be abused. And they seem to attract all kinds of petty tyrants. I have seen up close. Any thoughts on an alternative system to mediate the complex of property and contract rights involved?

    The good news regarding religious land use: statutes like RLUIPA help level the playing field. Things aren’t so bad all things considered.

  3. Well, no…gated communities are not moral. But they are a symptom of captalism.
    If my neighbor wants 10 cars in the driveway, 10 dogs in the backyard, etc. as long as he doesn’t harass me….that should be his business. I would take issue with the loud music though.
    I also think that people have a right to ask me if I would like my trees trimmed or if I would like to buy a magazine.
    They also have the right to be rough-looking.
    Forgive me Lord if I ever refer to a poorer person than myself that’s trying to make a living as “riff-raff”.

  4. Just a few thoughts on your provocative post:
    In my experience, homeowners associations are good things. I live in a non-gated hetergenous neighborhood with an active homeowners group that works together to prevent crime, reduce speeding by lobbying the city for speed bumps on our streets, support the library and schools, beautify our park and even promote neighborhood cohesion with a parade and picnic for the fourth of July. So, perhaps our association just hasn’t gone too far in what they restrict. The leadership of this group has a dickens of a time getting people to actually help with the organization. Most people want the benefits but don’t want to do any work.
    A relative recently related that an amusement type business was going to be built at the edge of their very new and undeveloped but flourshing neighborhood. My first thought was “wow, great for summer jobs for the teens.” As the conversation developed she said the neighborhood is very concerned about an increase in crime since this type of business attracts youths inclined to break into homes. Different perspective. If it is different or attracts people you don’t normally associate with you are inclined to not want it around — like a Mormon temple.
    On my mission in Brazil there were homes with locked gates and a plethora of broken bottles cemented into the tops of the high walls surrounding the home. Never got into one of those homes.
    Modern times has regrettably created challenges for spreading the gospel. Gated communities is one of them. Apartment buildings with secured entrances is another. Apartment complexes with security gates abound in my community. I think missionaries trying to knock on doors at those apartments would be asked to leave.
    The Lord provides a way. Preaching the gospel has pretty much always required a great deal of frustration and sacrifice.

  5. We’re all hypocrites. We hate it when there are people more exclusive than us, but we have no problem excluding ourselves from people we consider beneath us…

  6. A companionship in my zone (Tahiti) was lucky to catch a family as their automatic driveway gate (many well-off homes in Tahiti have one) was opening. They offered to help take the groceries in, and it turned into a great teaching prospect.

    Gated communities are even more difficult, though. To me, the solution is what general authorities have been hammering on for years: members should do the finding, and missionaries should do the teaching. Bam, problem solved.

  7. Whether or not gated communities are moral, they sure seem inconvenient for the people therein. (At least when I was in high school and some neighbors wanted to gate our cul-de-sac–I just imagined having to buzz in that many people if I wanted to have a party.)

    But I don’t see any significant way that a gated community, with its HOA, is different than my apartment. You can’t get to my apartment without passing the front desk and the doorman. I don’t know what missionaries do here, but they certainly don’t tract my building.

    And, Bruce, you do have an interest in whether your neighbor has 10 cars on the driveway and 10 dogs in the backyard, at least when you’re trying to sell your house (assuming that you live within sight/hearing of your neighbor). Your neighbor doesn’t always fully internalize the costs of his or her behavior; the (or at least a) point of HOAs and co-op boards and condo associations is to establish contractual rules so that I don’t pass off the expense of something pleasurable to me to my neighbor, who doesn’t get the same pleasure as I do.

    I guess, then, I’d answer that gated communities are unaesthetic and annoying, but immoral goes further than I would.

  8. Are gated communities moral? No way. Only *straighted* communities are moral.

  9. Watering ornamental plants, including grass lawns, with precious drinking water, is immoral.

    Driving to church when it’s just down the street, thereby contributing more to air pollution than necessary, is immoral.

    Setting up a local government, where individuals have a bigger voice than at the city or state level, is very moral.

  10. What’s immoral is a municipality requiring a developer to install a homeowners association or risk loss of all value to his property when they refuse building permits. Furthermore, the city then requires the homeowners to pay for the association to do things that the city should be doing (and does in other parts of town – i.e., clean the streets) without reducing property taxes for those same homeowners. Cities figured out a way to reduce costs without reducing revenue and it’s disgusting.

  11. Jana Reiss commented on my facebook page:

    Good argument, Kent. I think there is also an understudied theological component. Would Jesus live in a gated community? The very thought is absurd. And if we take seriously the Primary ideal that we’re trying to be like Jesus, then we shouldn’t cut ourselves off from the poor either. Period.

  12. I don’t think gated communities are immoral per se.

    What is immoral is the general lack of local community in Western culture. All of these problems, I think, spring from the fact that we are so hyper-individualistic and hyper-legalistic that we’ve lost the morality-without-legislation that is associated with good neighborhoods.

  13. Bruce, I did not refer to anyone poorer than myself as riff raff. I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression. My family has been scraping by for the last year so the thought of us being better than someone else is laughable. Not that I need to defend myself, I guess, but my kids are nicely in public school and my most recent teaching position was in the most low-income school in town and I chose that because I felt I could make more of a difference.

    Yes, anyone has a right to come to my door to sell something. I still hate it. Sorry, but that’s my feeling. It’s always in the middle of trying to make dinner or changing a diaper and it is what it is. Obviously, I am willing to deal with it to avoid the gated community. And unfortunately, you can’t have anyone off the street trim your trees anymore because if anything happens to them you’re liable. So let me clarify, I don’t care about exclusivity. I just don’t want my doorbell ringing all day. Unless it’s the fedex guy bringing me something good. Which he never does, darn him.

    Just a question, since I live in hurricane country, if you live in a gated community can you get the gate open when the power is out?

  14. Kent, is there a difference for you if it is a non-gated community but still has HOA and all that?

  15. I don’t buy the assertion (1) that Jesus wouldn’t live in a gated community, or (2) even assuming that He wouldn’t, that this has anything to do with where I should live.

    We (meaning I) don’t have any idea of where Jesus lived, or how that compared with where others lived. Or, for that matter, how such a dwelling space would compare to today’s homes. Or even if He could have afforded to live in an exclusive gated community 2,000 years ago.

    Furthermore, even if we knew that He clearly wouldn’t have lived in a gated community, I’m not sure what that tells us about where we should live. The implicit argument is that because He interacted with the poor, it is immoral for us to live apart from the poor. It doesn’t follow, though, either that because we live with the poor we will interact with them or because we live far from them we won’t. I live next door to housing projects (I can see in their windows from my apartment), but am perfectly capable of never interacting with anybody from the projects. A gentleman I work for lives in Princeton (in an undoubtedly wealthy part of it, moreover), but there is nothing that prevents him from interacting with the poor on his commute, in New York, or even, presumably, in Princeton. Proximity doesn’t require me to help the poor, and distance doesn’t prevent me from doing so.

    Moreover, even without gates, most places in the U.S. are de facto socioeconomically segregated. Prices are far more effective than gates at keeping people out.

  16. Yes, there are a lot of homeowner associations in some parts of the West. The fact that they are popular is evidence they meet a need that many people seem to feel. But I don’t know how one would reasonable label them moral or immoral. They are just one of those local institutions that help us manage or bridge the interface between private space and public space. Like shopping malls or stoplights. Or public parks, which sport a dizzying variety of conduct regulations. Or stadiums.

  17. Gated communities are not moral or immoral. People are. The question should be something like are people who organize and maintain gated communities immoral.

    My answer to that question is yes they are and no they are not. There is nothing wrong with organizing to make home a better place. On the other hand, there is something wrong with organizing in order to try and exclude the world from your life. Be in the world.

  18. Kent,

    “security probably better and less expensively provided by government”

    I disagree with this. Gated communities and alarm systems are similar in that their primary effect is they make the home seem less attractive to criminals than other potential victims. Their true value isn’t in the specific protection they offer, rather the value is that they offer a greater level then the default.

    It’s like the old saying: I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!

    It takes much less money to raise your own personal level of security above the default then it does to try to raise the default level of all of society to a similar level of deterrence (which would probably require a police state).

    Is this desire to trade money for enhanced protection via security gates immoral? If it is then I guess so are alarm systems, trimming the hedges around your windows, as well as leaving your lights on when you go on vacation. And forget about deadbolts! Actually, just go ahead and leave all your doors unlocked…

  19. This post coming from someone who lives in a city where 75% of homeowners live in co-ops, the most exclusive form of homeownership available. Kent, do you own in a co-op building?

  20. If you don’t like gated communities, and think they are immoral, then don’t buy a house there. Plain and simple. If you want to live with the poor, then rent an apartment or buy a house there. In America you have a choice. Isn’t it great that all neighborhoods don’t look the same? It’s called diversity.

    Of course, the main reason for these gated communities, and other housing areas with tight security, is to keep criminals out. I can find no fault with that. I don’t think many General Authorities live in the low income and high crime west side area of Salt Lake City.

  21. Sooo ironic! Gated communities are mainstays of third-world banana republics. Now we have them in America. Is this a great country or what?

  22. If you want to live with the poor, then rent an apartment…

    …said Jesus to his apostles. Or something like that.

  23. Following up on #19, people in large cities love living in buildings with doormen, and one of the primary reasons is security (keep the missionaries and riff-raff out). I’m not sure a gated community in a suburb is any different. (Full disclosure: I have never lived in a gated community, but I have lived in a building in a large city with a doorman, and thank goodness for that doorman).

  24. What about those who really do need to keep people out? Like an abusive ex-husband for instance? I can see how having that gate with the security guard could be a very good thing for some people. I think we need to be very careful before we label others’ choices as amoral. I live in San Antonio, where there are a great number of gated communities. A member of my stake presidency and the stake yw president live next door to each other in a gated community. Here it’s almost more about does the house you want happen to be in a gated community? Not all the gated communities here are necessarily wealthy. San Antonio also has a huge problem with “tagging” (spray painting of graffiti) and gated communities help with that, and I might add that you certainly do see tagging in “wealthy” communities that aren’t gated here.

  25. #21: The big difference with America and banana republic gated communities, is Americans can move from being poor to being wealthy. We are not stuck in a life of poverty forever. There is opportunity here. Indeed, this is why millions all over the world come to America.

    An excellent example is the newly nominated supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her parents immigrated from Puerto Rico, to New York. Her father died when she was nine. She was raised by her mother in housing projects in the Bronx. Yet, through hard work, she graduated from high school and was able to attend and graduate from Princeton and Yale.

    President Obama himself is a pretty good example of someone born into rather humble circumstances, and who now lives in the most gated house in America.

    Many of us can relate to being poor, since we have been there ourselves, and strive to help the poor change their status. The Perpetual Education Fund is an inspired program that helps people move out of poverty.

  26. Tina : Elaine, we have a problem.
    Elaine : Well, what is it?
    Tina : You’re getting kicked out.
    Elaine : Kicked out?! Why?!
    Tina : Well, there’s been a number of complaints.
    Elaine : Yeah? Like what?
    Tina : Well, like last Thanksgiving you buzzed up a jewel thief.
    Elaine : I didn’t know who he was!
    Tina : That’s why there’s a buzzer.
    Elaine : What else?
    Tina : Well, apparently, the week after that, you buzzed up some Jehovah’s Witnesses and they couldn’t get them out of the building.

  27. Kent: I am not a fan of gated communities, although I think that your wider point about HOAs is alarmist. I live in a neighborhood with an HOA. It is occasionally petty and annoying. On the other hand, it limits laziness by my neighbors in upkeep, etc. that could adversely effect my home value, and — more importantly — allows us to pool our resources to have a community swimming pool. This is a big plus in a place as hot and humid as Williamsburg in the summer. Indeed, the pool becomes a kind of community gathering place, and is one of the ways that I have gotten to know my neighbors etc.

    A final point: gated communities are frequently invoked by urban dwellers as an example of the moral depravity of the suburbs. On the other hand, apartment buildings into which one must be buzzed are a fairly standard feature of urban life. I always get a faint whiff of urban condescension spiked with a little hypocrisy in these discussions. (Note: this final point is not directed against Kent. Indeed, I have in mind a particular professor of mine from law school.)

  28. Since the original premise of this post was to express concern over the missionaries’ lack of access to gated comminuties, I would say that it provides another reminder that missionaries are there to teach, not tract. We have responsibility to provide referrals to the missionaries so they can be invited into those dreaded gated communities.

    A former employer served a mssion in Manhattan and describes how their lack of access to coop apartments with doormen and buzzers forced them to be creative in presenting the gospel to folks on the streets of New York

    I don’t live in a gated community but I live in a planned community with a homeowner’s association. We pay about $1100 a year for the HOA dues and we get garbage pickup twice a week, maintenance of the abundent parks, trails and common areas around the community and when it snows, my private street gets plowed long before the adjacent county streets. My neighbors and I have a responsibility to maintain our homes and our yards but I don’t have worry about someone down the street blocking up his old chevy pickup and leaving in the front yard. I do have more limitation on what color I can paint my front door and other such decisions but I also have fewer worries about what other folks are doing. I knew this before I purchased my house because the realtor was required to inform me. If I don’t like it now I have only one person to blame. But the fact is that I DO like it and I’m glad I live here.

  29. President Obama himself is a pretty good example of someone born into rather humble circumstances, and who now lives in the most gated house in America.

    Yay for opportunity?

  30. I don’t get why so many people are so worried about neighbors with broken down cars in front of their houses. Is there a health concern I’m not aware of? Is it somehow unsafe to live on a street where a neighbor has his car up on blocks? Is it really just about the aesthetics? If so, that’s pretty sad.

    I imagine that most will say it’s actually about home value. Well, home values can be adversely affected by a lot of things that are pretty embarrassing — like, when a black family moves into a neighborhood (certainly not as common now as in the past, thankfully). I imagine that if you get to know your neighbors, you would not really be bothered by the number of cars they have. Whereas, if all you know about them is that they don’t mow their lawn very often/ they smoke on their porch/ they have a car up on blocks in front of the house, you’ll be very bothered by that and label them as “riff-raff.” Personally, I don’t believe that “riff raff” exists. There are just people. Get to know them and you’ll appreciate them whether they collect cars in their yard or they collect foreign currency in their study. And until you have the guts to label a specific person as “riff raff,” stop talking about “riff raff” in a general sense. If the category is only inhabited by the faceless, it isn’t a category at all since everyone has a face.

  31. Zack – I didn’t say a word about “riff raff.” But I did say something about cars on blocks. Of course it’s about aesthetics. Junked cars and unkempt landscapes say a lot about the people who live there. I won’t call them riff raff but I don’t want them as my neighbors. Call me a snob if you want. I make (made) my children clean their room, why wouldn’t I want my neighbors to do the same thing.

    And by the way, I know a few people who keep junked cars or other debris in their front yeards. I happen to like most of them but I wouldn’t want to live in their neighborhood.

  32. I am not sure that you can argue that the physical structure of a community can be labeled immoral. Are high rise buildings with doormen immoral? How about people with security systems?
    HOA’s are fine as well. Our HOA simply keeps the place clean and provides a great water park and workout place for its members.

    You can always by a home in our area that is not in a HOA but I would not advise it based on the difference in the upkeep of the neighborhood

  33. We just turned down a nice house for sale at a very good price. Reason; the neighbors next to the house had five cars sitting in the driveway and the street, two with flat tires. Garbage was all over the front yard. Four little kids sat in a truck and continualy yelled at an adult on the front porch the whole time we went thru the house. The rest of the neighborhood was not quite as bad, but there was lots of graffiti.

  34. Everbody gets, right, that there is more than a coincidental similarity between gated communities and border/immigration controls?

  35. Greenfrog, is there a coincidental similarity between urban apartment buildings with doormen and border/immigration controls?

  36. Why is it sad to not want to live next to a trashy house? I take care of my investment. I don’t expect anyone to have the perfect home or yard, but it would be nice if you at least took the mattress out of the front yard. How that has anything to do with race, I’m not sure.

    I did use the word riff raff. Didn’t realize it was such a bad word. If you would like me to have the guts to call someone in particular riff raff, okay, then I have to say the guy on 15th street, third house on the right. I am not sure why you are allowed to talk about people in a general sense but I am not. I do believe in the worth of souls and that all people have value. I also believe in consequences to your decisions. If you choose to trash up your house and devalue your neighborhood, even if you’re a really nice person other people may choose not to live next to you. That doesn’t make either choice evil.

  37. Geoff,

    Of course there is, but the similarity of restriction is less when it pertains to one building (or one condo or one room in a condo, or one portion of a room in one condo) than it is when it pertains to a multi-home, multi-family gated community.

  38. Greenfrog, just one more point and then I’ll drop this. I know gated communities in Miami that include 10 houses. And I know restricted apartment buildings in New York that include 100 apartments. I don’t think the restriction is necessarily less on apartments.

  39. As a life long member & current RS president, I have happily lived in a gated community for 20 years. And I do NOT consider my community nor my neighbors nor our HOA to be “immoral”. Because our “gated” community is also a resort, it provides over 35% of our cities taxes which in turn pay for schools & other needs within the city as a whole.

    As far as missionaries & gated communities, I have an interesting story to tell you. As indicated in the article as well as commentary, most gated communities require a “visitor” to check in “at the gate”. A mission president serving in our area told the missionaries to say “we’re going to the golf course” so they could get in!!! Yeah, since when do missionaries play golf on non-P-days?? Do you think having a mission president TELL the missionaries to LIE to get into a community is moral? And just to add a twist to it. My husband almost died from a freak cardiac problem. Upon arriving home, I found a message on my v.m.; it was the missionaries “offering to do my husband’s hometeaching”. Sounds great, right? Well, when I returned the call to thank him & let them know he had done his HT for the month, they said “oh, we’ll do it again (same month) for him” ???? At no time did they ask if they could stop to visit my husband. So I asked “are you wanting to do his HT so you can visit the inactive members that live in our area (gated community)??” Dead Silence!! What kind of Christ like effort is that to be manipulative to gain access using a member’s illness? So, I called the mission president (the same one that said to use the “golf club” to gain access). I explained that I felt his missionaries efforts as well as his counsel were inappropriate & dishonest. His reply “well, we should be able to get in”. I said “do you realize that we have a police force that can arrest the missionaries for trespassing if they are caught & I was not going to vouch for them if they came in under the auspices of false pretenses.” He immediately instructed the missionaries to never attempt to gain access again. My husband & I have faithfully made the effort to HT/VT those inactive members in our gated community and have done so for years.

    It’s not a matter of morals, it’s a matter of the Church & others learning that agency is the higher law. Just because an individual’s agency conflicts with your/our beliefs or CULTURE, does not make it wrong or immoral.

  40. Just had a thought–the Temples are the ultimate gated community and we like it that way!

  41. Sorry if I’m redundant–can’t read all the comments right now–but I think you’re conflating two issues: gated communities and neighborhoods with HOAs.

    We lived in a “covenanted community” in Boca Raton. I hated it and all the infighting it caused. (Not to mention the regularity of police visits to HOA meetings and, yes, even physical attacks–from senior citizens no less–during board meetings.) But there were few non-HOA options in our city.

    We later lived in a gated community in Boca Raton. In fact, we built a house there. I do have funny stories about how the guard gates affected the missionaries trying to come to dinner at our home–but that’s for another day.

    There is an exclusivity to gate communities, but also safety. Interestingly, however, I didn’t find that HOA remotely as oppressive as the one we lived in in Eagle Mountain, Utah. First, when we bought the land the law was violated and we were not informed that there was an HOA. We would never have bought the land had we known. Second, the absolute split the HOA (and it’s corruption and power-grabbing) caused in our ward was just disgusting.

    I’m of the mind that if you want to decide how a piece of land is used, you need to buy it.

  42. All gated communities need are rameumptons. They are perfect examples of the class distinctions the Book of Mormon warns us about.

  43. I try to interpret morality as narrowly as possible. I think that one of the great curses of the current state of pulbli discourse is that people have to label EVERYTHING good or evil depending on whether they agree with it or like it. This is clearly evil. ;). HOAs? Definitely a question of whether they are a good idea. But evil? A distraction.

  44. I see “gated communities” as maybe the only hope left.

    Let groups of people with diverse desires joining into covenants to live as they choose. Some will live by higher laws, and some will reinvent Sodom.

    The fascination some people have with “inclusion” and “openness” ends up being fascist before long, as one group imposes their will on everyone else, so that we can all be one big collective joined under the beloved leader. Let me out. The beauty of gated communities is that they have boundaries. They don’t encompass the earth.

    Of course the celestial kingdom is a gated community. If we forced everyone to live by one law, we would all live in the telestial kingdom.

    I say “live free” and “separate.” Go live as you choose and leave me and mine alone.

  45. I don’t think gated communities are immoral, they are just a shame. They tear down our ability to build a community, and in the long run, our ability to build Zion. The way Americans build gated communities right now has introduced a whole new level of segregation… economic segregation. With homes from the _#_’s and up, only families that fit a certain economic demographic can afford to live there (because most of us live on the edge of our income, whatever that income is). And, they only stay there until their finances allow them to move ‘up’ into the next more exclusive gated community. Families who live here, as comments above have indicated, do not have associate with ‘riff-raff’, and many other good people of a lower socioeconomic status. How in the world can we expect to build Zion if we can’t stand to live with those who are different? Yes, the temple is the ultimate gated community, BUT, it does not discriminate on the basis of financial worth… gated communities do.

  46. I apologize for taking so long to respond to the many comments on this post. But now that I’ve read things carefully, let me try to respond to a few of the ideas brought up:

    • Several of you (comments 7, 19, 23, 25, 28, 40 and possibly others) suggested that there was little or no difference between a gated community and a doorman apartment building, and at least Rusty (19) seemed to think that he had caught me being hypocritical in this respect. Sorry, Rusty, not this time. I don’t live in a doorman building.

      I actually do think that gated communities and doorman buildings are very similar. The principal difference is simply that because the physical area owned is part of the same building, instead of part of the same land, there is a lot more reason to control what happens in each apartment because of the effects it could have on other apartments in the building.

      However, the problem I tried to highlight in the post is very complete here in New York City–you really don’t have a choice about joining an HOA when you purchase an apartment here. All apartments in the city are either Condos or Co-ops, and every single one has an HOA associated with it. They are intrusive into areas where they don’t belong to various degrees, just like HOAs in other parts of the country.

      For the record, I did live in a doorman building here in New York City, when my wife and I first moved here–it was student housing, and we didn’t have much choice. My wife needed to be close to the school, and we took the apartment assigned. While having a doorman was certainly convenient, and we liked many of the doormen personally, in retrospect I don’t think the doorman was very necessary. I don’t think that the doorman did much for security at all, other than make residents feel safe.

      As for Kaimi’s clever dialogue (27), I think in many more affordable New York apartments, the dialogue would go more like this:

      Tina: Last Thanksgiving you buzzed up a thief.
      Elaine: I didn’t know who he was! I was expecting a Fedex package.
      Tina: Then don’t buzz anyone in without checking.
      Elaine: But its 5 floors down to see who it is. I can’t walk up and down the stairs with the baby just to see who it is. You know that the intercom with the buzzer doesn’t work. And I really needed that package that day! If I hadn’t buzzed in the Fedex guy, I would have had to go to midtown to pickup the package!

      FWIW, It seems like the intercoms don’t work in half of the buildings, and at least 10% of buildings don’t have elevators.

  47. More responses:

    • Comments #6 and #29 only addressed the problem that missionaries face. For the record, this isn’t just about missionary’s troubles.
    • Some of the comments (esp. 18 & 20) seemed to focus on security as if that is the primary concern. I’m not convinced that this is true. Security may be the initial reason that many people join HOAs or buy into gated communities, but if that was their reason for existing, why do the agreements go into so many areas that don’t have anything to do with security? [I’m not convinced that most people join HOAs or buy into gated communities is because they have security concerns. Rather, I suspect that in many cases it is part of the package that comes along with the house. The purchaser wasn’t looking for an HOA, it was something that came with the house they found and liked.]
    • I found the comments about aesthetics particularly interesting (see #1, 7, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 37). I tend to agree with the idea that its really none of your business if your neighbor has 5 cars up on blocks in his yard, but I have less of a problem with a restriction on that kind problem than I have on other problems I’ve seen in some HOAs, such as restrictions on what colors houses can be painted, the presence of lawn ornaments, whether or not you can park on the street in the neighborhood, etc.

      I’m especially concerned with those things that represent cultural differences in aesthetics, like color or lawn ornaments. Cars on blocks are one thing. Objecting to pink flamingos or a lavender house is another.

    Now let me address some comments specifically:

    • #2:

      “Any thoughts on an alternative system to mediate the complex of property and contract rights involved?”

      Not really. I agree with many of the comments who say there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the HOA structure, just how it is often implemented. I guess I would support city and other ordinances to limit what restrictions HOAs can impose on property owners. Either that, or courts need to be empowered with some kind of theory about what kind of restrictions are reasonable.

      #2 also wrote:

      “The good news regarding religious land use: statutes like RLUIPA help level the playing field.”

      I agree, except that it doesn’t help those who are proselyting, like missionaries.

    • #5:

      “We’re all hypocrites. We hate it when there are people more exclusive than us, but we have no problem excluding ourselves from people we consider beneath us…”


    • #9:

      Setting up a local government, where individuals have a bigger voice than at the city or state level, is very moral.

      True, except that local governments are especially likely to overstep moral boundaries and impose the will of the majority on those that disagree. In addition, many of those that are governed by these HOAs didn’t necessarily enter into the agreement without inducement. They wanted the house, not necessarily the HOA.

  48. “For the record, I did live in a doorman building here in New York City, when my wife and I first moved here–it was student housing, and we didn’t have much choice. My wife needed to be close to the school, and we took the apartment assigned.”

    Now that’s quite helpful, because when you wrote in the original post that you were “not suggesting that anyone that lives in a ‘gated community’ is necessarily evil,” I was left to wonder what kind of evidence would be sufficient to rebut the presumption of evil that must attach to anyone that lives in some sort of restrictive housing association. But now with your concrete example, I can conclude that only people that choose to live in an association when they have many other choices, or those that live in an association that isn’t close to their school, are evil.

  49. And, a few more responses to specific comments:

    • #10: Wow, I had no idea some local governments were pulling this. I suppose it could theoretically be OK to do this if it were universal, and if the voters in the city/area had actually voted for it in a referendum or something. But I suspect this isn’t the case. Likely its only applied to new developments, and has been done as a way for the politicians to avoid the hard questions that sometimes arise in local government. Throw the bums out who did this!!
    • #18:

      Gated communities and alarm systems are similar in that their primary effect is they make the home seem less attractive to criminals than other potential victims.

      Perhaps. It could also be that these are signals to thieves that something of value is on the other side of the gates or just past the alarms.

      My own view of these security concerns is that they are mostly about property. As I understand it, very little violence is perpetrated against strangers, and even the much feared home invasion is usually about theft, not violence. So much more can be accomplished by simply minimizing how ostentatious the home, cars, and property is than by alarm systems and security guards.

      I’ve lived here in New York City, in wonderful, but not particularly upscale neighborhood, for more than 20 years now. I’ve never been robbed, nor has our home ever been broken in to. The worst we’ve experienced is vandalism against and theft of our car (for a joy ride, the car wasn’t worth stealing). We simply don’t have much worth stealing, and yet we don’t lack for almost anything that we really need or for much that we want.

      It’s like the old saying: I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!

      Hmmm. Have you considered the morality of that saying?

      I don’t think I have a lot of objection to increasing personal security, or even to gated communities increasing their security. BUT, I do think it would be better for that money to be spent on the security of the town or city as a whole instead of on a single neighborhood. If you were to spread that spending across an entire city at the same percentage of income, the overall increase in security for everyone would far exceed the increase in the single neighborhood. There are economies of scale for security spending.

    • #23:

      people in large cities love living in buildings with doormen

      Really? I think a lot depends on the doorman and on the building and neighbors. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about doormen, and horror stories from doormen on how they were treated by the residents of their buildings.

      and one of the primary reasons is security (keep the missionaries and riff-raff out).

      Well, when I lived in a building with a doorman, that was NOT the issue at all. In my experience, doormen have a very marginal effect on security. When they are loved, it is for the conveniences — someone to accept packages for you, help with opening the door, etc. I do think that some people feel more secure with doormen, but I don’t think they really make much difference. After all, most of them have no security training whatsoever.

      What is more troubling about your statement, Geoff B, is the fact that you are equating “keeping the missionaries and riff-raff out” with security. I’m afraid that is one of my chief objections — the fact that those in gated communities equate security with keeping out the innocuous.

    • #29:

      but I also have fewer worries about what other folks are doing.

      Wow. I don’t think I could put it better.
      You do know that the Mormon Creed is “Mind your own business”?

    • #47:

      The fascination some people have with “inclusion” and “openness” ends up being fascist before long, as one group imposes their will on everyone else, so that we can all be one big collective joined under the beloved leader.

      I see, so in order to avoid this, we need to join gated communities, where the will of our fascist neighbors are imposed on us, right?

      I don’t have a problem with having local neighborhood agreements, when the neighbors truly and freely enter into the agreement, without inducements and complications. In the case of HOAs and gated communities, that freedom isn’t there. Neighbors are forced into the HOA because they want to buy the house. That doesn’t seem free to me.

  50. gst (51), you are assuming that I don’t think that I, myself, am also evil [GRIN].

    OK, I’ll admit that my post was a little more polemical than it should have been in this respect.

  51. I have figured out how the City of Enoch accomplished that seemingly impossible ideal of having “no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18).

    You see, Enoch was a seer. He looked in the Urim and Thummim and learned how the Latter-day Saints protected their property values.

    Then he copied us, implementing immigration restrictions, zoning, planned unit developments, restrictive covenants, and gated communities!


  52. I have to agree with this article, I served a mission to Southern California! Gated Communites everywhere! They tried to keep us out of everything if they could!

  53. Roger (56) – I think it depends on the mission language. In my wife’s Spanish-speaking SoCal mission, they didn’t have gated communities to worry about (they had more worries about the locations of the INS checkpoints).

  54. Queuno (57): Isn’t this more likely a function of class? I suspect that most of the Spanish-speaking community in Southern California doesn’t live in communities with income levels that would support gated communities.

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