Housing Associations versus Local Government
Russell Degnan

Marginal Revolution linked to an interesting column on peoples' reactions to mansions in older suburbs in the US. The first sentence sums it up beautifully:

"In the town where I live, a once-placid Washington suburb, the mayor has just sent out a letter asking the natives to stop throwing eggs at one another's homes."

The trend in the States is to protect your neighbourhood through a homeowners association. Some 50 million people live in areas governed by quasi-governmental organisations regulating everything from the colour of paint to where you can hang your washing (if at all).

In Australia we have no such organisations, but the same issues arise; governed instead by ineffective, ill-defined 'neighbourhood character' and 'heritage' designations. Despite the difference, it is almost certain that people conceive of the planning system as being similar to a homeowner association at local government level: that is, it is there to protect their streetscapes from undesirable demolition and housing. This is an issue when you consider the broader aims of planning the residents tend to disagree with: finding a place to build houses, businesses and industry that has minimal impact on amenity at a reasonable cost.

Home owner associations offer an interesting comparison with our own system. They represent a stronger (collective) property right that would almost certainly put an end to higher density development in most of Melbourne, forcing the people who would have lived there further out. On the other hand, their sense of certainty and community control is less arbitrary than our planning laws and advantageous from a political and legal perspective (and those associated costs).

The hard part is finding a balance between the two.

Sterner Matters 21st November, 2005 08:00:46   [#] 

Comments

What about Caroline Springs?
Don't Caroline Springs and some of these other outer-suburban McMansionvilles have something like these bodies?

Bloody Orwellian bodies, from all reports, these things. Don't a lot of their ordnances basically come down to "don't act like you're a) poor, or b) black"?
Rob M  21st November, 2005 17:26:27  

Sort of
I think they have some restrictions, by covenant, on what can be built on the lot etc. Nowhere near as extensive as in the States. Maybe body corporates are a closer fit?

Property prices, and the perception of your house and neighbourhood seem to be the main drivers of them, so yes, not looking poor is important. I am not sure about racial signifiers. The interesting thing is that in both countries, on a sufficiently local level, people seem to be willing acceptants of the restrictions -- that is, the value of restrictions on their neighbours property exceeds the cost of restrictions on theirs. A cartel might be a better analogy. Not least because it restricts economic competition through landuses to suit the existing property rights holders.

Although, again, they are not necessarily a bad thing.
Russ  21st November, 2005 18:34:12  

Housing Associations versus Local Government
The Save Our Suburbs thing might have been the genesis of this kind of organisation, but it's waned since Braxy and the boys took power. Not sure it even exists now. And it doesn't appear to me that our governments even want local bodies to have a say over local planning, etc.
Tony.T  22nd November, 2005 17:45:09  

Housing Associations versus Local Government
"And it doesn't appear to me that our governments even want local bodies to have a say over local planning, etc."

Tony, they do, but perhaps not in the way people want. The planning system is meant to only consider issues of amenity and impact from development, and only since Save Our Suburbs has it tried to look at the thornier issues of what they call 'neighbourhood character' (but never define). Resident groups don't really care about the former and are passionate to the point of obsession about the latter. A lot of the angst comes about because Victoria has very extensive provisions for people and groups to have input into the planning issues, but basically ignores them on neighbourhood character.

Save our Suburbs still exists, although they were always an umbrella group of sorts, and have splintered back into lots of single issue groups. You'll hear about it before the election next year though, don't worry about that.
Russ  23rd November, 2005 00:35:14  

Housing Associations versus Local Government
Sounds like you're an active particpant, Russ. C'mon, fess up - you're an activist, aren't you.
Tony.T  23rd November, 2005 10:29:26  

Who me?
Nah. I just like cities, I don't mind too much what they look like. Although the odd active participant seems to stumble over this site occasionally. They never comment, but the sitemeter tells all.
Russ  23rd November, 2005 16:04:53