My friend, Bev, who lives in The Villages, sent me an article that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on April 6, 2012. The writer has her knickers twisted over The Villages and its developer. I’m told she usually aims her blowgun at the developer, but this piece targeted The Villages itself.
This was a good prompt for me because I have me dancing in the dark about my promised post about the Dark Side of The Villages.
A month ago I posted about the Bright Side of The Villages. (http://allevenson.wordpress.com/the-villages-the-bright-side/) That post soon generated the most comments of any in the last year.
With a month to reflect, I find more to the bright side of The Villages, and I think they get a bad rap.
I have no problem with the abundance of activities. I am an activity junkie myself.
I see the population in The Villages as a high-energy bunch of financially successful achievers—you have to be pretty cynical to knock that.
I have no problem with an age-restricted community. I think they are a good idea. We do plenty of self-segregating already, according to affluence, ethnicity.
The people who live in The Villages are not anti-children. There are plenty of kids and grandkids visiting all the time. Half the residents are snowbirds, which tells me they spend half their months back home where the kids that haven’t moved away are.
I don’t think Villagers are fed up with their communities or routines back home. I think they have opted for something better, after considering the trade-offs.
Some, particularly Andrew Blechman in his book about The Villages, Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children, makes the argument there is something dysfunctional about a community that restricts kids. But I don’t see it. Those who make that argument seem to be people with kids. Many of those people have warehoused their parents in old folk’s homes.
I have no problem with the fictional history of the town. It is not as though anyone believes it.
I’ve been living in the California real estate bubble for 20 years. It is still a bubble as compared to the rest of the country. So when I saw what you got for your dollars at The Villages, I was way more impressed than someone living outside the San Francisco Bay Area bubble. Bev and her husband built their lovely, custom 3br 2bath, 1800 square-foot home 7 years ago for under $200,000, and it is still worth that. Even at post-crash prices, it would be worth more than twice that in any reasonably tidy community within 25 miles of San Francisco.
When I was in The Villages, I often heard it was Disneyland for adults. I thought they were saying the people were akin to Goofy and Mickey Mouse–you know, a little nutty. Actually, the flip comment is about the activities. The people I met are active physically and mentally—the sort of people I like.
The Orlando Sentinel article asserts that The Villages is 98 percent white. It looks that way to me. But I wonder what is the color of 98 percent of those living in upscale retirement anywhere.
One popular pseudo-fact that pounces on newcomers is The Villages has the highest STD rate of any retirement community in Florida. The information is accompanied by a matching leer and virtual elbow in the rib. It began as a rumor based on false records at one clinic. But like a true rumor, it spread fast, and persists even though it has been debunked. I think the locals like to believe it is further evidence that every activity is available. I did not get to do any in-depth research on this visit.
Yet, the dark side seems as dark as ever. This has to do with the developer.
The local TV, radio, and newspaper are owned by the developer. Their mission is marketing, and they deliver only the pablum of current events. Even the cable TV channels are selected by the developer.
There is evidence that the developer has reached or exceeded the aquifer’s ability to supply water to the community. Yet they are proceeding to build another 10,000 homes.
There are other issues which are beyond my investigative skills or inclinations, e.g., there are those that argue the infrastructure was built and sold to the county at inflated prices. Fifty percent of property taxes go toward debt reduction for the purchase of infrastructure.
I am told that the original financing was a billion dollars of tax-free bonds. The IRS is now contesting the tax-free status of the bond issue. Property owners will be responsible if the IRS prevails.
So the dark side of The Villages has to do with non-disclosure and misrepresentation.
Maybe it is because I spent over 40 years as a salesman who believed I had to earn the trust of every buyer and every seller at every step of every transaction that I so criticize betrayal of trust.
Yet, on balance, I think it likely that the lifestyle and property value at The Villages is fair, and those who choose The Villages are buying into a whole package that suits them.