The feds are out to squash the not-in-my-backyardists, this time with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. We’re not just talking about crippling the ability of local governments to design zoning rules (God forbid you be free from the meddling of a far-off bureaucracy seeking to redistribute people as ethnic units), but the ability of local officials to even criticize the federal government’s intrusion into their local affairs. This is outright censorship.
In December, I warned that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) new demographic assessment tool would be used to force federal policies onto towns across the country in the name of “affirmatively furthering fair housing.”
Their new assessment tool places a heavy emphasis on describing patterns of ‘segregation’ and extremely detailed demographic analysis aimed at highlighting R/ECAP (Racially or Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty), especially regarding access to government services.
HUD clearly aims to glean mountains of demographic data, and you can bet your back yard that it won’t go to waste in the hands of the social justice bureaucracy. That data will be presented as evidence of the disparate impact of local housing policies, opening the door to federal intervention.
With mandatory analysis of racial composition and obligatory steps to “affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH),” federal intrusion is ramping up across the country. But HUD was meddling long before the new assessment tool was established—not that they want you to know about it.
We’re All Inside Chicago Now
Stanley Kurtz at National Review has written extensively on federal intervention through AFFH. In January, he pointed to the effective federal takeover of housing authority in the city of Dubuque as an example of what is to come.
Dubuque was essentially forced into Chicago’s orbit as a satellite city, as part of the same “region,” for the purpose of expanding low-income housing, although they are 200 miles apart and lie in two different states. Chicago, which has badly mismanaged its own supply of low income housing, had left some Section 8 voucher holders with nowhere to use their vouchers. The solution? Decree that little Dubuque, which had its own economic troubles, build more housing. Then the federal government could direct voucher holders in Chicago to Dubuque.
This kind of abuse is part of HUD’s main body of work through AFFH. Without coercion, without using the necks of local authorities as stepping stones over the inconvenient desires of local voters and taxpayers, they cannot make progress toward real social justice.
You think you can stand up to the federal bullies and say “Not in my backyard!” Think again. Look at what’s happened to Rob Astorino, the county executive of Westchester, in New York. The federal monitor in charge of overseeing Westchester’s implementation of a discrimination settlement (which requires the county to collect money “for land acquisition, infrastructure improvement, construction, acquisition, or other necessary direct costs of development of new affordable housing units that AFFH”) issued a report on March 17 alleging Astorino has misrepresented the settlement and asking that he be given a gag order. No criticism of federal overreach can be allowed. The voices of the constituency, through their elected officials, must be silenced in the interest of ethnic and socioeconomic redistribution.
Astorino has been a vocal critic of AFFH’s overreach for years. A speech he made in 2013 was so compelling that a county in New Hampshire, heeding his warnings, stopped requesting federal housing funds. Ignoring pressure from Astorino (including a press conference in front of her house last summer), Hillary Clinton has been unwilling to comment on AFFH’s policy forcing her hometown of Chappaqua, through the puppeteering only federal funding (so far) can allow, to build low-income housing units. Is Chappaqua guilty of segregation for resisting diktats to bring in more low-income minorities, or aren’t they?
We’ll Commandeer Your Money, Neighborhoods, and Voice
To be sure, HUD isn’t always transparent in its goals to overrule local zoning laws and force the construction of new low-income high-rises. Westchester’s settlement obligated recipients of federal Community Development Block Grants, including Westchester, “to conduct an analysis of the impediments to fair housing choice within its jurisdiction, and… to take appropriate actions to overcome the effects of any impediments identified through that analysis.” These were the conditions for the usual recipient. The settlement then ordered Westchester to construct 750 new low-income housing units “in predominantly white, or ‘eligible’ communities,” by the end of this year. The settlement’s demands on the county are obvious, and Westchester is on track to meet them.
However, as Astorino referenced in his 2013 address, HUD had further demands. They insisted in a letter from 2011 that the county, “go beyond the four corners of the settlement.” HUD wanted to lift zoning restrictions, many of which Astorino argued were reasonable safeguards pertaining to traffic safety, sewage drainage, and noise and water pollution. HUD even asserted in 2013 that zoning for single-family lots was “restrictive” or “exclusionary,” and could be discriminatory.
HUD then went on to demand that the 750 units the settlement demanded weren’t enough. What Westchester really needed was more than 10,000 new units. Who would pay for those units? County taxpayers, of course.
Astorino has had the gall to call out HUD’s overreach. Someone speaking such inconvenient truths must not only be denounced, but silenced, then forced to parrot the views he has fought. Due process, freedom of speech—to the social justice warriors embedded in all corners of the federal government, these rights are not to supersede orders to combat the so-called racism evidenced by the existence of mostly white, middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, cities, or counties. Use Big Data to hunt down and correct the policies responsible for such “disparate impact,” and don’t just ignore those annoying NIMBYists—quash them.
First They Came for Dubuque and Westchester
Federal overreach into your backyard has been happening for years, causing public commotion, it seems, only in the neighborhoods directly affected by these intrusions. Broader concern and a wider discourse on “What business is it of the federal government to decide what housing development happens across the street?” much less “Why do I need a permit for a shipping container on my property?” is muffled by the brash noises of electioneering in the presidential primary.
But this matters. The issue is no longer contained to property rights, or the rights of local constituencies to decide zoning policies. Tyranny never confines itself to one issue. Now, free speech is eminently threatened. In this case it’s not by way of university censorship or conventional political correctness, but by a collection of bureaucratic social justice warriors bent on shaping the racial and socioeconomic composition of your neighborhood, who cannot stand to have local officials question their authoritarian policies.
Don’t wait until your own backyard is under the thumb of the federal government. Election cycles have a commanding influence on national dialogue. Make this an issue for the candidates as well as your elected officials, and let the pressure build on this administration and the next to keep its elitist worldview, intrusive policies, and speech-censoring bureaucrats out of our local affairs.