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Collective private ownership of American housing:a social revolution in local governance


  • Robert H. Nelson



In 1970 only one percent of American housing units were located in a homeowner association, condominium or cooperative - the three main instruments of collective private ownership of housing. By 1998, this figure had risen to 15 percent. In major metropolitan areas, 50 percent of new housing units is being built and sold as part of a collective ownership regime. The rapid spread of collective private ownership of American housing is creating a social revolution in local governance. Private organizations are becoming responsible for collecting garbage, providing security, maintaining common recreation areas and many other collective tasks within the neighborhood area of common property ownership. The private enforcement of covenants takes the place of municipal zoning in regulating the quality of the immediate exterior environment. Private neighborhoods operate under different "constitutional" ground rules than traditional local governments in the public sector. The allocation of voting rights in private associations, for example, is based on property ownership rather than numbers of adult residents. The greater flexibility in governing arrangements of private neighborhoods has many advantages. The paper concludes by suggesting that collective private property rights should be made available to many existing neighborhoods in place of their current zoning controls. It would amount to the "privatization" of zoning.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert H. Nelson, 2000. "Collective private ownership of American housing:a social revolution in local governance," ICER Working Papers 09-2000, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:icr:wpicer:09-2000

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    More about this item


    Housing; Local Governance; Collective Action; Community Associations; Privatization;

    JEL classification:

    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods
    • H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • R31 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Housing Supply and Markets


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