My Courtier-Journal column opposes a recent federal regulation on affirmative action for housing. Reprinted with permission:
President Barack Obama has fundamentally transformed the concept of “neighborhood watch.” Instead of combatting crime, he seeks to use federal regulations to police our right to live in the neighborhoods of our choice. Hillary Clinton, if elected, would take this terrible idea and run with it, to the extent she can still run.
It’s called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH), and it’s essentially affirmative action for housing, to force American neighborhoods to become more diverse and “inclusive.”
Fact: housing discrimination has been illegal since the 1960s. It has been against the law to discriminate in the rental or sale of housing based on race or ethnicity for more than half a century. As it should be.
Discrimination includes “steering,” whereby a minority buyer or renter is prodded to live elsewhere. Yet the new regulation, AFFH, steers minorities into communities that HUD wants to diversify.
AFFH goes much further than just punishing discrimination. It would force municipalities that accept federal grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to submit detailed information about the race, ethnicity, income, disability, and familial status of its citizens for comparison to regional demographics.
If the federal government deems the town too homogenous, HUD would require a plan to bring in new residents to diversify the population. That could include changing the zoning laws to allow high-density housing and paying to build hundreds of units of low-income housing.
The rule’s vagueness gives broad discretion to unelected bureaucrats (“community planners”). Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing “means taking meaningful actions” to “address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns.” A federally-mandated utopia!
If a neighborhood is composed of people of similar backgrounds, HUD presumes that the commonality must stem from insidious discrimination.
So much for New York’s Chinatown, Boston’s Little Italy, and Chicago’s Greek Town, or any of the many wonderful ethnic neighborhoods across the country. Under HUD’s reasoning, these neighborhoods are “segregated” and must be “diversified" — even if the clustering of the ethnicity occurred as an exercise of free choice.
Some people prefer to live near their family and church. But the elitists at HUD assume everyone wants — or should want — to live in the ‘burbs, not the ‘hood.
To be sure, the composition of many neighborhoods reflect the cost of real estate. Poor people tend not to move to Martha’s Vineyard; they cannot afford it. We shouldn’t pay bureaucrats to quantify this reality. Or give federal grants to increase inclusiveness there. (Yes, Martha’s Vineyard gets HUD grants.)
Moving to a good neighborhood is and should be aspirational — to motivate parents to work hard to provide a better life for their children. A home in a safe neighborhood epitomizes the American Dream. As anti-discrimination laws were enforced from 1968 on, this dream became a reality for a broader cross-section of Americans.
In the 1975 sitcom, The Jeffersons, George and Louise Jefferson were African-Americans who moved from Archie Bunker’s neighborhood in Queens to the Upper East Side. George Jefferson made it to his “deluxe apartment in the sky” not due to a HUD relocation plan but by working hard and taking entrepreneurial risks.
Obama is right that a child’s zip code should not dictate his destiny. But we cannot all fit into the same zip codes. So let’s address the problems in the zip codes from which HUD wants to import people to achieve diversity. Let’s empower people who so desire to “move up.”
Poverty is not a place. Escaping poverty requires more than moving people to a new neighborhood. A poor person whom HUD relocates to a ritzy zip code is still poor.
To some extent, escape from poverty requires certain behaviors — completing high school, not doing drugs, obeying the law, and waiting to have children until married. This is true regardless of where one lives. Even if one abides by the rules, however, failing schools and a stagnant economy impede social mobility.
Far better to equip Americans to climb the economic ladder, beginning with education. Instead of importing minorities into affluent neighborhoods with good schools, let’s give students in all neighborhoods access to good schools, starting with vouchers and charter schools.
Rather than address the underlying causes of poverty, however, AFFH focuses on the symptom. In a sense, AFFH appears to abandon the possibility of upward mobility. That’s terrifying, and sad, but also revelatory of the liberal mindset: let’s just give stuff to poor people.
The full force of AFFH will not be felt until after the election. Municipalities that want to keep local control should resist the temptation to accept HUD grants. Otherwise, prepare to accept centralized planning, federal overreach and social engineering. Those HUD grants include strings that will strangle freedom of association.