06.06.2014 0

Racial quotas for local zoning decisions?

hudBy Robert Romano

In October, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is set to finalize a rulemaking to condition eligibility for community development block grants on redrawing zoning maps to achieve racial and income integration.

In 2012, HUD dispersed about $3.8 billion of these grants to almost 1,200 municipalities. These range from the rather small — Nashua, N.H. received $583,000 that year. To the rather large — New York City received $210.9 million of the grants.

Now, under the new rule, HUD will empower itself to nationalize local zoning decisions in every single one of these localities in an attempt to create evenly distributed neighborhoods based on racial composition and income.

“This is a utopian pipe dream, and social engineering at its worst,” Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens said.

“Neighborhoods are constituted not based on racial quotas, but on economics,” he added.

Mehrens called on the House of Representatives to defund implementation of the rule via a rider to the Transportation and HUD appropriations bill coming up next week.

A trial run for the rule has already occurred in Westchester County, N.Y., where the department has attempted for years to rezone the area as a condition for receiving millions in grants.

County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, told HUD to go pound sand, and simply rejected the receipt of $5 million of grants from 2012.

Westchester lost out on some $7 million of grants from 2011 for the same reason.

“It is unfortunate that HUD, which claims to champion the needy, once again is threatening to withhold funds for affordable housing,” said Astorino spokesman Ned McCormack in April. “But the county is not going to turn over control of the local zoning of its six cities, 19 towns and 20 villages to bureaucrats in Washington for $5 million in grants.”

HUD was demanding that the county build 750 units of affordable housing in 31 more affluent communities.

Now, Astorino, running for governor this year against Andrew Cuomo, is challenging in federal court the legal basis under which HUD can even condition the grants in exchange for changes to zoning.

Now, call me a cynic, but this probably has nothing at all to do with integrating communities on the basis of race or income. More likely, this is a pretext to tilt the political scales on the national and local political scenes for the next generation to favor Democrats.

It is no secret that Republicans with their low tax message tend to do better among the middle and upper middle classes, while Democrats with their social welfare regime tend to do better among the poor.

The solution for Democrats? Via regulation, force communities dependent on federal funding to build more homes and apartments where Democrats are likely to live.

If for no other reason, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives should defund the new rulemaking, which represents an existential threat to its continued viability as a national political party.

But, leaving that aside, it’s also completely insane from a policy standpoint. Forcing wealthier communities to build so-called affordable housing units could depress property values, increase local taxes, and place a greater strain on public services.

It also violates the constitutional balance of powers between the federal, state, and local governments. The federal government has zero role, constitutionally, in local zoning decisions. That is a matter for county and municipal boards.

Besides, it will not do a thing to alleviate actual housing discrimination, ALG’s Mehrens noted, “Housing discrimination based on race has been illegal for decades. There is no discrimination in people choosing for themselves where they want to live, and yet that is exactly what HUD is seeking to regulate.”

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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