Persecution Complex

Windsor Place resident Pat Snyder wages a jihad against the homeowners' association, which she accuses of cronyism, racism--even hastening the death of an elderly black woman

Imagine a block of Soviet workers' housing plopped down in central Phoenix, then cloaked in shades of hot pink and aqua. Le Corbusier meets Miami Vice. Imagine four hulking cinder-block-and-glass buildings whose residents live in strict compliance with covenants, codes and restrictions dictating everything from window coverings to doormat placement.

Welcome to Windsor Place, on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Thomas Road.

To the casual observer, the second-floor condominium in building C doesn't look much different from all the rest. But to the Windsor Place Homeowners' Association, it is a blight. The two unauthorized air conditioners dangling from its windows are a gesture of defiance for which their owner has been slapped with several $100 fines.

The woman who aims to usurp the ruling elite--a seven-member board elected by the complex's homeowners--is an energetic 48-year-old firebrand named Pat Snyder, who views her struggle as nothing less than a war against oppression.

"Please refer to me as a homeowner activist, a freedom fighter," she says in a recent letter to New Times, "because what goes on in malfunctioning HOAs [homeowners' associations] is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and violates citizens' rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Snyder has waged her revolution since she moved onto the property two years ago. The battlefields are the hallways, common areas and the clubhouse of the 6.5-acre, 167-unit complex. It has been a costly and wasteful affair, chewing up hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in legal bills.

And, like most revolutions, it has a martyr: Rosa Anderson.
Anderson, a 72-year-old retired schoolteacher and grandmother, saw Windsor Place as ideal to live out her retirement in proximity to downtown, shopping and hospitals. She bought a unit on October 27, 1995, and moved a few days later.

On August 13, 1996--a little more than nine months after moving in--Anderson died of complications from heart disease. In the time since, questions surrounding her last months have hung over Windsor Place like a pall. To hear Pat Snyder tell it, Anderson, who was black, strode into a den of racists, stood her ground and paid for it with her life.

"You've heard of the town without pity?" Snyder asks. "This is the condo without conscience."

Snyder's call has been taken up by the Reverend Oscar Tillman, president of the Arizona chapter of the NAACP, who has accused Windsor Place's homeowners' association board of persecuting Anderson because she was black.

It sounds like a compelling story--an elderly, educated, African-American woman squares off against the all-white homeowners' board. And loses.

But the facts do not support allegations of a racist plot to harass Rosa Anderson.

Windsor Place has its share of problems, but they have more to do with the maddening vagaries of homeowners' associations than with bigotry--the problems that spring up when 30-year-old buildings are overseen by people with little experience in governance who wield the powers that homeowners' associations routinely hold.

Rosa Anderson was born Rosa Harris in Oklahoma on January 13, 1924, one of nine children. Her family moved to Phoenix when she was still a little girl. Soon after arriving in their new home, her mother set up a small poultry business. Though not poor, the family was never well-to-do, either.

"I'll put it this way," says Jovee Smallwood, Anderson's eldest son. "My grandmother wasn't a genius, but she wasn't dumb, either. They always had food, and she made sure they all went to school."

Rosa Harris enrolled in junior college, eventually obtaining an associate's degree. It was around that time that she met Jovee Vance Smallwood, her first husband. The couple had three children in quick succession, but soon divorced.

She moved to Los Angeles and worked as a nurse. She met Seawright Wilbur Anderson, a young medical intern. They married in 1952.

Rosa Anderson had two more children and continued to pursue her education, eventually obtaining her Ph.D. in education. In 1963, she made the first in a series of sojourns to Africa, where she taught at girls' schools. Jovee Smallwood has vivid memories of his first trip to Ghana with his mother.

"They loved her over there," he says. "And she loved being there. She was fascinated by the country."

After Anderson's second marriage ended in the mid-1970s, she returned to Phoenix to care for her sick mother. She purchased a home in Sun City, where, Smallwood says, she remained active both academically and socially. She played bridge, gave lectures on her travels and teachings and was active in her church. She also continued her lifetime association with the NAACP.

Anderson's problems began almost immediately after she paid $23,000 for her one-bedroom, ground-floor condominium.

About two months before she died, she spelled out her grievances in a four-page, single-spaced letter to a Phoenix law firm. The firm did not take on the case.

"My health has become worse since I moved to Windsor," wrote Anderson, who had diabetes and heart problems. "My blood pressure stays up, and so does my blood sugar, which makes my eyesight worse. The association board members are very partial and inconsiderate. I cannot live here without them harassing me. I am willing to sell my condominium to them and go elsewhere."

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