The Villages, the Dark Side

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. ( 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.








14 Responses to The Villages, the Dark Side

  1. David LaRoche says:

    I just happened to be here, so:

    Freedom is all about people choosing from among their alternatives. How can we judge those choices of other’s without risking our own? We have formed institutions that allow rules we agree prevent one person from taking the space of another, and ways of enforcing them, and that’s quite enough.

    As to the developer, caveat emptor! Don’t like, don’t buy. Our social structure allows that every business entity provide a good for the community or it may not drive in its stake. It’s up to the community to see that it happens. No water, no building permit, and so forth.

    If one doesn’t like the ratio of whites to others, don’t move in. If “No Kids” is a problem, go elsewhere. It’s really simple and we do it all the time – it’s called discrimination. I like this guy, this pie, this tie, and don’t like that – pretty simple stuff. The good thing about this society is, there are lots of alternatives, moreover we encourage them.

  2. dhbauer says:

    Generally, I know that south central Florida has a water problem related in some way to the drainage of the Everglades and that for that reason development generally is a major issue not only in the case of the Villages. Turns out that it is unlikely that everybody in the Northeast and Mid-West who wants to move to the Sunshine State in their Golden Years will be able to do it. Alternatives are to consider the less populated southwest states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, but there too the water problem is an issue, though as I understand it there are huge aquifers underlying places such as Las Vegas. And, that water source has supported a considerable amount of development in Las Vegas without stressing the Colorado River.

    At any rate, I agree with David LaRoche on most of the dark side issues. Like Al, I too like the many options for activities at the Villages, and the opportunity for camaraderie among my age mates is appealing to me. Having the grandchildren visit seems like a good compromise to living next to families with younger children who may, or may not, be providing the necessary supervision of their children.

    Take for example, our experience when we lived next door to the three elementary school-aged children of a police officer and his wife in San Jose, CA. Every morning at 7 AM as I left for work I was greeted with a “Good Morning, Dude” by two of the children as they smoked their morniing cigarettes while perched on the bedroom window sill in their two story home.

    Another memorable event was the day that one or more of them eviscerated a lizard and decorated our side of the wooden fence by impaling the disemboweled creature with a nail though its skull. Nice kids!

    On another occasion, this same group of budding juvenile delinquents stole several boxes of ornaments that my wife had made for her cottage business and that she had set out on our porch to be picked up by a UPS agent. Those boxes went missing at some time during the morning hours. After searching for the missing boxes, we discovered the content of all the boxes scattered over the back lawn of that same neighbor’s property. When we confronted the mother with evidence that her kids were responsible for the theft, she denied that her kids were in any way responsible. On the other hand, her husband, the San Jose police officer, informed us of the fact that his kids were likely at fault and that, indeed, he “had the worst kids in the neighborhood.” Nice guy with at least one kid who was a “bad seed.”

    To sum up, what may at first seem to be a dark side of the Villages may be a blessing in disguise and a major contributor to the bright side instead.

  3. Colleen Rae says:

    Basically I agree with David LaRoche, in that we are all free to choose where we wish to retire. I read a suggestion in the rumor regarding the high STD rate in the Villages,that it might be a wife-swapping community. Am I correct in this assumption? If that is the life-style one chooses, good luck to them. Personally i would not want to live in a community with that in mind. That’s just me. I’ve been there, done that, and moved on.
    Now the developer calling ALL the shots would be another deterrrent for me. Also the possible rationing or worse of the water. All things considered, for me, the dark side out-weighs the light side.

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    I also agree with Al in that the non-disclosure and mis-representation would be another deterrent for me.

  5. M. Kaplan says:

    Al, I appreciate your thought processes in deciding the pluses and minuses of The Villages.

  6. I am sending this link to close friends living in the Villages. They might or might not be surprised at some of the disclosures.

    • allevenson says:

      They can probably add something. I dont feel I have seen or reported this topic in the depth it deserves. I am still unsure if this place is summer camp for grownups or the new Stepford Wives.

  7. L says:

    This place sounds like what Hitler had in mind in the 1930’s Germany. What does the villages do if someone becomes brain damaged or labeled a sexual predator for watching porn, or a battered wife? Do they have gas chambers or are they just expected to move? What if someone loses all their money to Bernie Madoff and needs a food shelf or a perpetual yard sale in order to buy groceries. What if an old fart pisses behind a hedge, are they ostracized? What ordinances prevent life from happening?

  8. MaryAnne says:

    Interesting comments, all; as is the info Al has given us. Makes me soooooo glad I served my younger life on the East Coast (most of my classmates now live somewhere in Florida) and saved the best ’till last by living in an RV in AZ in the Winter and enjoying Colorado the rest of the year in a single family residence with a few RV weeks thrown in. Sad how the almighty dollar rules the developers moves and sadder still to think about changing dance? partners in my senior years or not having the fun of a lawn sale every weekend if I choose to do so. However, the comraderie and the activities do sound like a fun way to experience “seasoned living”.

  9. karen wittgraf says:

    I am sooo late in addressing this, but have to anyway. I don’t think I would like the “old white guy” way of living…about as diverse as mashed potatoes, but what would really bother me is that the owner owns the local TV and radio stations and has his agenda presented only? Wow! i hope that doesn’t mean limited to Fox News or something- that is really scary. No- couldn’t do it- the dark side there is way too dark!

  10. Bucky says:

    I visited The Villages about a month ago and it was AMAZING. Unless you have experienced it you really can’t cast a judgement. No one pressured us to buy anything or bothered us at all. In fact, we had to seek information on the facility. If you like golf and want an active lifestyle this is the place for you. I am getting the heck away from winter and staying active to live longer and The Villages seems like a perfect fit.

  11. Dr. B says:

    I agree with most of the article. Especially the mispresentation. My concern is how unsafe the environment is. There is “Bullying”, unfriendly atmospheres at the restaurants where the “f” word is loudly and consistently used, open aggression on the roads and mailboxes. Finally, there is is the burglary of homes during the day while people are home. There doesn’t seem to be any place to complain or anyone that cares. Instead of installing cameras, hiring increased police and starting a campaign of anti-bullying they put their head in the sand and tell the residence to start to protect themselves. Therefore, I always carry a weapon openly displayed and hidden and am going to install a a state of the art security system and I make sure everything is always locked up. PARADISE LOST!!!!!!!!

    • allevenson says:

      Your comment is the saddest yet. Your experience is so detailed that it does not seem exaggerated.During my visit, I never felt unsafe, nor did I hear comment like yours from people I befriend there. It is interesting to me that this article posted a little over a year-and-a-half ago has more than double the number of hits of any other post, including those that were post a year-and-a-half earlier.

      On balance I enjoyed my visit to the Villages, I am still overwhelmed by the roster of activities and the energy of people living there.

  12. Dr. B says:

    I didn’t pick any of this up on my visits. However, I was born with a sense of humor. At the mail boxes I never go after noon and I always walk with my “John Wayne Walk” in 3 inch heels. . Weapons drawn (pink mace), I look directly in their eyes. Problem Solved! Now I’m an old tall thin blond. What a site I must be to behold! However, all my female friends want to know where I got my mace.

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