Gated Living – Pros and Cons
When first shopping for real estate in San Miguel I was thrilled to learn about the virtual absence of Property Owners’ Associations (POAs). For nearly all home or office building owners, POAs are simply part of life in the US. I was happy to learn that here in San Miguel I’d no longer being paying thousands each year to ensure a third party vendor made a good profit for lining up the occasional snow plow. Or spend any more time in meetings with my neighbors discussing the merits of taupe versus bone for the backing of drapes that faced the street.
The US has a twisted history with POAs. As late as the 1940s a POA’s regulations superseded state or federal law allowing such things as ownership being available only to Caucasians. This only ended, first in California, with the case brought forth by Oscar-winning actress Hattie McDaniel, famous for playing Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Her Los Angeles neighborhood’s POA didn’t allow women of color to own property there. Well, until Mammy moved into the big house.
San Miguel’s relationship with POA’s is similarly complex, and often race-oriented. To have a POA the developer agrees to set aside a certain amount of land formerly used for orchards, for parks. In return, every property’s deed is listed as a condominium (even if a standalone home) and forced to pay into a POA normally run by the developer. It’s a nice future income stream for the developer once the properties have sold.
Unfortunately few developers want to give away income producing property for a park so they, or the neighbors themselves, try to shoe-in a POA at a later date with varied results. El Paradiso, Los Labraodres, Villas Antigua and my own tiny neighborhood have all had difficulties trying to form a POA wanna-be down road. (It can be done legally if the developer will set aside the park land and 90% of the home owners pay to have their deeds re-written. From the tone of folks at City Hall I’m assuming this never happens.)
For me, I was the first family in our tiny cluster of spec homes for sale. I enjoyed having school kids pass by on their way to school or play soccer in the fields. A few years later I had a handful of neighbors who did not so they placed a gate on the only car entrance in, though the surrounding fields were all open access to anyone. My neighbors, who had brought houses with garages on the very border of Centro, wanted a guard paid to make sure no one parked in front of their house even during the 10 months of year they weren’t here. Plus they wanted me, to pay for it. Obviously I bowed out of that opportunity.
But it was exactly the opportunity one of the developer’s cousins liked. Liking so much he fired the neighbors’ guard, placed his own guard and wanted paid monthly for his guard’s services. What exactly the services were escaped me. Not being fenced, access was free and easy. Plus I understood that as the cousin built spec houses himself the gate blocked access to municipal employees checking for permits or the Ecology Department fining for the trees cut down. Fine, that’s his business, but it was now also mine.
Legally, of course, you can’t block anyone’s access to their home, or anyone coming to see them. But, realistically, you can make access very difficult especially if you’ve a dark skin tone. Countless times my darker students, delivery folks or pals are denied access. The door man even forced a 93 year old grandmother to walk 15 minutes instead of continuing in her taxi because of her skin tone.
Now my neighbors will argue the door man provides security but the recent rash of home invasions has dispelled that myth. Folks tend to ignore that if someone is recording when you come and go that right there is your biggest security breech. And if your job is opening and closing a gate, you’ve some time on your hands to gossip. I’m amazed how often the lady at the tienda tells me gossip about my neighbors, and myself, including when we aren’t home.
The bottom line, if your property isn’t part of a POA as explained in your deed, yet you’ve folks asking for monthly money it’s strictly a volunteer effort on your part. If you feel the services, if any, are worth the cost, pay up. If not, don’t. But whether you contribute or not, slapping up a gate does not provide security, but rather a type of security risk. In today’s rough and tumble world of international relationships, a group of foreigners (including Mexicans from outside of San Miguel) feeling entitled to deny parking on public streets, or access to dark-skinned people, generates whole new opportunities for discourse.