We had put it off long enough. It sat there in the train case we use to hold our incoming mail, before it overflows and we perform our usual sort/recycle/shred cull. The yellow sheet was to be updated, sealed into the provided yellow ballot, then returned in the provided white reply envelope. From there it would be added to the others, tabulated, and the rules would change. It seems like a small thing, but we had kept putting it off out of inertia and laziness. We were going get it over with and behind us.
The ballot arrived via old-school snail mail so we could cast our vote on a proposed change in the rules governing the Home Owners’ Association (HOA) for the townhouse we own. It’s not a huge complex – maybe a few hundred homes – and most of the units are owner-occupied. There’s a rule already in existence limiting the percentage of homes within the HOA that can be used as rental properties. This rule, if enacted, would reduce that percentage, with penalties for owners who rent out their units without obtaining permission from the HOA. I’m not an expert on HOAs and norms surrounding what you can-and-can’t do within one. Before we moved here, I’d only associated HOAs with [link]that episode of the X-Files with Rob and Laura Petrie. It’s useful for us to have the HOA handle things like yard maintenance and painting the exterior (though there have been some historical troubles on both of those fronts as well, in the interest of full disclosure). We pay a monthly fee, and in exchange receive some benefits that are ostensibly in the best interest of all of the homeowners within the HOA.
Which brings me to the ballot. At first I didn’t care. I just thought, “Oh well, who cares? We’ll probably never want to rent our place out. If we move, we’ll almost definitely sell. This falls outside the ‘Does this affect me?’ window.” But we still didn’t fill out the ballot… and there it sat for a few more weeks.
We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the little island city of Alameda. Over the past several months, rents have skyrocketed here, lagging a bit behind SF and Oakland but now displacing many long-term rental residents as they are priced out of the market. People who have lived here for 30 years are being forced to move out of town. It’s the same story as SF, writ small and late, but with all of the angry passion of the goings-on in our neighbor city across the bay. At a city council meeting last November, the discussion of rising rents and possible responses packed the house… and there was even resulting violence and two arrests. The city council ended up putting in a moratorium on raising rents above 8% for 65 days, then extended that moratorium. There are discussions about rent control, about the differences between “good” property owner/landlords who have been supplementing their income with rental properties and “bad” property owner/landlords who are professional property managers, new to the city, investor-landlords… not the Mom-and-Pop shops that have been blessed as “good” in raucous and contentious discussions.
In casual discussions with neighbors, I see a lot of bias against those who rent within our HOA versus those who own their homes. Renters are cast as unreliable, inconsistent, not good neighbors… and that absurd stereotyping really pisses me off. The belief of at least some of the homeowners who live in my HOA is that renters drive down the property values of the surrounding homes, and that to preserve the value of our homes we should severely limit their numbers within the complex.
Ugh. Such bullshit.
I mean, I grok that having 100% rental properties – especially as all landlords are not very good at maintaining their assets or screening their tenants – can be bad for the property values the rest of us have seen grow significantly in the past few years. But that’s not the case we have here. We already have a limitation on that, and I see no reason to restrict it further except to exacerbate the already terrible problem of housing availability in Alameda and surrounding areas. I can’t get behind the idea of reducing the available number of rental properties when houses in our HOA, identical to our floorplan, are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars more than we paid only six years ago. Letting that kind of personal greed supersede our responsibility as citizens of a greater whole… that shit just pisses me off.
I have no idea if our vote will make a difference – if the voting is close at all, if there is already a landslide movement of voters one way or the other, if there will even be enough votes received to get minimum quorum (which has been a problem in the past).
But we marked it NO, sealed it inside the yellow envelope, then sealed that inside the reply envelope… and sent it away to be tabulated.