Monday, July 26, 2021


You all are probably thinking that I spend too much time on Twitter, but, honestly, one can learn a lot there. Take this conversation, for instance:

I am going to stay far away from the gentri**** word and just say community revitalization is not necessarily a bad thing. You can have mixed income and diverse communities that truly thrive.

     *Columbia, MD has entered the chat*

Columbia is a wonderful racially diverse and economically diverse planned community. With excellent schools too. My only issue with Columbia, MD is that the housing stock is old. And you cannot update the exterior of the homes without going through the Columbia Association. 

     I recently just learned that it’s not a real city or town, but rather an HOA. And the residents must comply with the board. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of that.

Okay, first we need to make the correction that you must work with your Village Association on changes to the exterior of your house, not CA proper. But if you are from out of town that’s an easy mistake to make. Let’s look at the basic information here.

1. Columbia has a lot of positive attributes according to the speaker.

2. They are put off that a) housing stock is old, and b) local requirements hinder independence of owner to renovate.

That thing where “you have to get permission” really bugs some people. I know it was mind-blowing to my daughter when she was house-hunting. Perhaps it’s a generational thing?

We had to go before the RAC in Oakland Mills when we got new windows. Being new to the process we were terribly stressed but it turned out to be fine. We were impressed with the amount of time the RAC members had put into looking at our neighborhood before making a decision. I suppose I would not feel the same had they ruled against us.

When I was on the Board we had to listen to cases where the homeowner was challenging the RAC’s decision. Now, that was stressful. When you are getting in the way of something wants to do with their own property, it can get downright ugly.

Where am I going with all this? Well, perhaps it’s that people who contemplate living here may not have the Rouse vision, the lakefront, and the scenic pathways foremost on their minds. Columbia? It’s that place where you have to ask permission. 

I am not suggesting that we should necessarily abolish RACs and guidelines. But I don’t think we realize what a hurdle that is, especially for younger buyers. 

The Howard Hughes Corporation is investing a lot of money, time, and effort to make Columbia a really “happening place to be.” And it’s nice that someone with the wherewithal thinks we’re worth investing in. Really. But not everyone looking for housing will be looking for what they are selling. 

Perhaps with the crazy housing frenzy that’s going on right now people are just buying in Columbia neighborhoods because they are so desperate to get a house. Maybe their responsibility to maintain their house in a certain Columbia way is the least of their concerns right now. I don’t know.

But this conversation made me think. The primary speaker is someone who has money to invest, and who clearly has a positive opinion of Columbia. This is not someone who pops in and out of town only to label us a suburban, car-dependent hellscape. Is this feeling that Columbia is “the place that tells you what to do with your house” a long term liability for us? Do we need to frame it better or attempt to change the conversation about why we are the way we are?

As always: what do you think?

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