Friday, July 1, 2011

Homeowners' Meeting In the New Subdivision

I don't care what color you are, you know, I just don't like seeing a bunch of teenagers just roaming around the neighborhood.  Where are their parents at?

That bus they put in - that can just drop off people from anywhere.  Any part of the city, and they're coming in to our community to cause trouble.

I used to rent myself, but these renters here, especially these section 8 renters - they don't care.  We need to change the covenants to outlaw that.  [Someone points out this is against federal law, which prohibits discrimination against the rental assistance program].  Well, we should make it more difficult at least.

We have to stop all of these loud cars.  This kid has a huge speaker in his back window.  Where are his parents?

Add general nods of agreement. It's Wednesday night at the public library auditorium, and we are in a Homeowner's Association meeting.  I've related the quotes above, from different homeowners in our neighborhood, to several friends who come from around the country, and they all cringe. They are thinking, this is the bad part of the south-haven't we moved past this?

However, the speakers above are all African American.  Does that change your perception?  This causes surprise when someone hears those quotes.  Our community is mostly African American, and the attendance at the meeting was a couple of dozen or so black people and me and another white guy or two, representative of the makeup of the community.  Durham is somewhat rare in that blacks and whites are roughly balanced within city limits, although individual neighborhoods vary widely.

Nobody is for locking up teenagers, keeping poor people from getting transportation, or disallowing people to have an affordable place to rent.  But people are entitled to the "quiet enjoyment" of their property, as the law puts it.  So if a group appears to stand in the way, it can become us versus them, regardless of race.  And statistically, teenagers and renters care less about their properties (it's not entirely theirs) and maybe less about quiet enjoyment. Racism is still alive, but class distinctions are becoming more important as more African Americans are lifted into the upper class.  "White flight" is deemed a symptom of racism, but "black flight" happens too. Witness the large concentration of African Americans staying away from Washington, DC city limits by moving over the border to Maryland.

We didn't come to any conclusions.  It didn't entirely matter because we are mostly powerless.  We discovered, to my big surprise, that the Board of Directors of the Homeowner's Association, is actually one guy, Jerry Stoltz.  He's the developer that started things 13 years and has refused to turn over the board of one to an actual board of homeowners even though it appears the legal requirements have been met (it's common for the developer to direct the board in the beginning stages of a community).  Disenfranchising a black community is not a good thing to do, so he was the punching bag for tonight.  The meeting was scheduled so he could be present, but he begged off at 9 am and instead sent Drew, who would only call himself a professional acquaintance of Jerry's.  His only ability was to take notes.  He had no answers nor authority.  But anger at the builder was another issue that surfaced harshly in the mostly white HOA where we lived in South Durham.  Crime is also a major concern in both areas.  I think both neighborhoods are safe, but getting everyone together to relay their worst experiences makes everyone feel less safe.

In the end, I don't know if we could really change things if we were in charge.  People are behind on their HOA dues by $40,000, so we can't really spend much money.  Bankruptcy and foreclosure mean we may never see a lot of that.  When we are the board, we will have we  to blame.

Another issue I contemplated:
Should I ask about a starting a neighborhood e-mail list?  You know, to bring the community together?  Or because of the tone created by the false anonymity of e-mailing your neighbors instead of talking to them, would it actually tear the neighborhood apart?  I've definitely seen both results.  It certainly gives people a platform for complaining: "We will initiate action if everyone does not power-wash his home," etc.  But hopefully, it could be a platform for organizing neighborhood cookouts, too. Someone else seizes the initiative and I sign up.  We'll see.


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