Do political signs in yards lower property values?

Homeowner’s associations often have restrictions about signs and displays owners can have on their property. The supposed goal of all of this is to protect property values. Without such community organizations, someone might do something odd to their property (ranging from painting their door an unusual color to having stuff in the yard to hanging) that would affect selling prices nearby.

Two questions:

  1. Do political signs and displays actually lower property values?
  2. Even if they do drive down property values, isn’t political expression worth it?

Regarding the first question, outside of legal opinions, I cannot quickly find scholarship with empirical evidence about this. I could see how such an argument could be made: certain political opinions or just the clutter of political signs or displays could detract from the particular aesthetic of a block or neighborhood. As realtors often suggest that the interiors of homes should be relatively depersonalized and uncluttered so that any prospective buyer could imagine themselves there, perhaps the same applies for the exterior. If political signs do indeed have a negative effect, I imagine it would be quite small. (Could signs have a positive effect? Perhaps it could indicate the political leanings of a neighborhood that some would find worth knowing. Or, it might suggest a level of political engagement that some could find attractive.)

But, even if political signs have a negative effect, how much are they worth regulating given that Americans typically like to have the right to political expression? Should HOAs have special regulations about signs or displays that go beyond what a municipality might have about size or noise or crowding? (See a recent example involving a large “Impeach Trump” sign in Elgin, Illinois that the owner reduced in size after the city said it violated their codes.) HOAs often go beyond municipal regulations to make sure that property owners are protected against possible threats to their property values.  Why not allow a little more politics in HOA developments rather than clamp down on matters that could be handled by someone else? (There is already a sorting process that goes on for homeowners at the municipal level before they even consider entering an HOA.)

Another argument to make in favor of more freedom for political signage in HOAs is thinking about the common good – theoretically what politics is about – rather than individual property owners. If more speech is better so that all sides have a chance to participate, why would we then allow HOAs to limit some political expressions just so owners can benefit?

Ultimately, homeowners voluntarily enter such communities; they do not have to purchase one of the millions of housing units governed by an HOA. At the same time, many Americans seem willing to enter HOAs to protect their property until they run into regulations they do not like. If higher property values are the ultimate goal of suburban life, perhaps these HOA dispute stories will simply continue because people cannot afford to not utilize them. On the other hand, if HOAs do not serve the common political good, perhaps they should be avoided.

 

HOAs, political signs, and elections

What would a national election cycle be without stories of how politics and homeowner’s associations do (or do not) mix? The latest in reactions to political lawn art from Katy, Texas:

Shannon Bennett and her husband painted the tribute to O’Rourke in an effort to keep people from stealing the their political lawn sign, the Star-Telegram reported Thursday.

Bennett said she and her husband were immediately confronted by the the president of the Chesterfield Community Association, who she said was “very hostile” over the sign.

This sounds, in many ways, like a typical HOA conflict. The homeowner does something that may not be explicitly prohibited or at least is more difficult to find in the association’s regulations and conflict ensues. Painting your lawn for a political candidate is an unusual step and it is not surprising that the HOA had concerns. Add a contentious political battle and this is a Grade A HOA dust-up.

But, more details in the story suggest this is more than just an election year battle:

Bennett told the paper that she felt like there is a double standard in the neighborhood, noting that she lives near a house with a sign that reads “I stand for the anthem, and kneel for the cross.” According to Bennett, the neighbor’s sign should not be allowed under the HOA rules because it is not a political sign.

Bennett said she was forced to remove a sign that reads “kindness is everything” due to the same guideline.

And from the HOA company:

“This is not a violation for them placing a political sign; it’s the type of signage that they’ve actually placed on their property being an extremely large painting on the actual grass of their front yard,” Jordan told the Houston Chronicle. “It is a landscaping and signage violation. It has nothing to do with it being a political signage. Any type of signage of that nature would be in violation.”

Now this is not just about an election for a senate seat; now this is about which rules are enforced, which messages are deemed political, and what forms these messages can take. And in a state known for its conservatism, these disputes could fester. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors all in a quest to maintain property values.

Tomorrow: do political signs affect property values and if they do, isn’t the right to political expression worth it?

Why hasn’t the area south of Chicago developed into suburbia?

Two points of data hit me recently about the asymmetrical suburban development of the Chicago region:

1. I recently made a trip down I-355 from I-88 down to I-80. Once you are south of I-55, there is limited development. There are some signs of subdivisions and warehouses but still plenty of open land available.

2. I discussed the boundaries of the Chicago suburbs in a recent post and noticed on the map from the expert that the northern, western, and southeastern suburbs of Chicago extend far into the country but the southern suburbs do not go far. Indeed, suburbia goes further into Indiana or Wisconsin than straight south into Illinois beyond I-80.

Why is it that this area has not developed? In a region that expanded tremendously after World War II and that currently has need for affordable housing, why is this land relatively empty? A few quick hypotheses:

1. The area to the south and southeast of Chicago may have been more industrial earlier on. This would discourage residents from locating nearby. (On the other hand, residential locations close to work could be very valuable in such a large region where jobs and residents do not always line up.)

2. Given the history of race and ethnicity in Chicago and the region, these areas are associated with more black residents and whites wanted to live elsewhere (north suburbs, west suburbs, Indiana).

3. A cultural and economic mismatch between the area south of the city and the region. While Chicago expanded with its reach into the agrarian upper Midwest, the areas south of the city may have had stronger affinities with central Illinois and less urban areas.

4. These suburbs to the south are hesitant about approving development. In a region with little open land left for development (that has not been taken for green space by Forest Preserves or private landowners), this more rural feel gives these suburbs a unique feel. Adding hundreds of mass-produced homes may not be what these particular suburbs desire.

News story suggests 40% is “Almost Half”

A Bloomberg story looks at the rise in birth in the United States outside of marriage and has this headline:

Almost Half of U.S. Births Happen Outside Marriage, Signaling Cultural Shift

And then the story quickly gets to the data:

Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970, according to an annual report released on Wednesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest international provider of sexual and reproductive health services. That number is even higher in the European Union.

Almost Half of U.S. Births Happen Outside Marriage, Signaling Cultural Shift

There is no doubt that this is significant trend over nearly 50 years. One expert sums this up toward the end of the story:

The traditional progression of Western life “has been reversed,” said John Santelli, a professor in population, family health and pediatrics at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Cohabiting partners are having children before getting married. That’s a long-term trend across developing nations.”

Yet, the headline oversells the change. A move from 10% of births to 40% of births is large. But, is 40% nearly 50%? When I hear almost half, I would expect a number between 45% and 49.99%. Claiming 40% is nearly half is going a little too far.

I think the reading public would better served by either using the 40% figure or saying “Two-Fifths.” Or, perhaps the headline might speak to the 30% jump in nearly 50 years.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue. The rest of the story does a nice job presenting the data and discussing what is behind the change. But, this is a headline dominated age – you have to catch those eyes scrolling quickly on their phones – and this headline goes a bit too far.

Determining the complicated boundaries of the Chicago suburbs

Prompted by the discovery of Green Oaks, Illinois earlier this week, I went searching for a list of all of the Chicago suburbs. Instead, I found a discussion about where exactly the Chicago suburbs end. Here is an expert talking about this very issue in summer 2018:

The best definition of where the “suburbs” are, according to Ellis, is probably the boundaries of the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet Metropolitan Statistical Area

But calling everything inside those boundaries “the suburbs” is probably too simple…

So, Ellis said, the suburbs end to the west at the Fox River, to the south along the Lincoln Highway, and stretch along the train lines as far south as Michigan City, IN and as far north as Kenosha, WI.

The second map probably also conforms to cultural understandings in the region about what is really a suburb. There are places that could be within the far-flung orbit of Chicago but do not think of themselves or are not regarded by others as true suburbs.

This is an issue for many metropolitan regions, particular due to two changes:

1. Suburban areas keep developing further from the central city.

2. More people commute suburb to suburb rather than into the central city on a regular basis.

With more housing available further from the city as well as the presence of jobs in far-flung job centers, more residents can be part of a metropolitan region even if they rarely make a trip into the big city or do direct business with the big city.

Still discovering the existence of some Chicago area suburbs

I recently ran across a news story about a Chicago suburb I did not recognize. Where is Green Oaks, Illinois? Here is the front page of the community’s website:

GreenOaksWebsite

The Census characteristics of the community suggest it is small (roughly 3,600 residents), white (over 85%), wealthy (median household income just over $160,000), and educated (over 63% with a bachelor’s degree or higher).

Given the population of the Chicago region (over 9 million residents) plus Illinois’ penchant for local governments and taxing bodies, perhaps this is not surprising. It is easy to miss a community of less than 4,000 people with a community name that comes out of the mad lib list of Chicago suburb names (Oak, Forest, Park, Green, Hills, cardinal directions, etc.).

At the same time, as someone who studies the Chicago suburbs, not even being aware of this community is a point to file away…

Archetypal American cities and “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

A story about the decline of retail establishments in Manhattan and the consequences for street life ends with this saying from Tennessee Williams:

“America has only three cities,” Tennessee Williams purportedly said. “New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” That may have been true once. But New York’s evolution suggests that the future of cities is an experiment in mass commodification—the Clevelandification of urban America, where the city becomes the very uniform species that Williams abhorred. Paying seven figures to buy a place in Manhattan or San Francisco might have always been dubious. But what’s the point of paying New York prices to live in a neighborhood that’s just biding its time to become “everywhere else”?

These three cities are indeed unique with distinct cultures and geographies. But, I could imagine there would be some howls in response from a number of other big cities. What about Chicago and its distinct Midwest rise in the middle of a commodity empire? What about Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs and highways between and across mountains and the ocean? What about Miami serving as a Caribbean capital? What about Portland’s unusual climate and approach to social issues? And the list could go on.

Perhaps a more basic question is this: how many archetypal American cities are there? One of the books I have used in urban sociology, The City, Revisited, argues for three main schools of urban theory: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These happen to be the three largest cities in the United States and also have the advantage of having collections of urban scholars present in each. New York is marked by a strong core (Manhattan) and a unique colonial history (Dutch and then English) that helped kickstart a thriving economy and religious and cultural pluralism. Chicago is the American boom city of the 1800s and was home to the influential Chicago School at the University of Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s. Los Angeles is the prototypical twentieth-century American city built around highways and Hollywood with a rise of urban theorists in the late 1900s dubbing themselves the Los Angeles School. If these are the three main cities on which to compare and contrast, a place like Cleveland is more like Chicago (as is much of the Rust Belt), Houston is more like Los Angeles (as is much of the Sunbelt), and San Francisco is more like New York (and some other coastal cities might fit here).

But, these three biggest cities cannot cover all possible kinds of American cities. How many archetypal cities are too many before the categories become less helpful? Should the emphasis be on cultural feel or on how cities develop (New Orleans might simply be a unique outlier in all of this data)? Having these ideal type cities is only helpful so that they help describe and embody broad patterns across groups of cities.