Fifty-three years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. visualized a day when his children would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Today, with the help of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is working to make sure that day never comes.
Less than a year after King’s famous speech, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Since then the United States has spent more than $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs—three times the combined cost of every war the U.S. military has fought since the American Revolution—yet today in America more than 46 million people live in poverty because these anti-poverty programs are not only failing but exacerbating the problem.
The Left is tangled in the belief that people, especially minorities, are incapable of helping themselves, which results in essentially a landfill of government programs, departments, and mandates, and a constant broadening and re-defining of those already in place.
You’re a Racist If You Have Standards
Take the Fair Housing Act, signed into law in 1968, which rightly outlawed the following:
- Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
- Discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference of discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
- Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
This past June the U.S. Supreme Court needlessly widened the scope of the Fair Housing Act by determining that local housing agencies and landlords can be found guilty of racial discrimination without ever engaging in discriminatory procedures. Let’s say, hypothetically, that the owner of a housing complex or apartment building requires that applicants have a clean criminal record.
Even though this is required of every applicant regardless of race, a case can now be made that this simple prerequisite has a disproportionate effect on a specific ethnic group and thus promotes residential segregation. To consider the content of one’s character is to risk being liable for racial discrimination in a court of law, which is just one of many glaring examples of how the Left promotes an industry of grievance.
‘Eliminate the Gringo’
There is perhaps no greater instrument of this than HUD. Run by Julian Castro, this is a group of unelected officials behaving as social engineers. They’re peddling a narrative of victimhood over achievement, determining who gets to live in certain neighborhoods based on how they feel that neighborhood should look. It’s a fitting position for Castro, whose mother, Rosie, helped found the anti-white, socialist Chicano party La Raza Unida. His twin brother, Joaquin, was named after an anti-gringo movement poem called “I Am Joaquin.”
Jose Angel-Gutierrez, one of the La Raza Unida founders and friend to Castro’s mother, once told an audience in San Antonio, “We have to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to worst, we have got to kill him.” This is the ideology that surrounded Castro as a child, and his political positions today reflect it. He believes Republicans are racist for wanting to end sanctuary cities and control illegal immigration. He refers to voter ID laws as “voter suppression.”
So it will come as no surprise to learn that the agency he oversees is currently using advanced data to examine the living patterns and racial composition of white neighborhoods in Baltimore County as well as Westchester, New York—one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. Their goal is to both address “residential segregation” and help low-income families “gain access to communities that are rich with opportunity.”
Castro’s vision for Baltimore County sees low-income minorities “gaining access” to affluent white neighborhoods with the help of government mandates that require wealthy, or rather “segregated,” ZIP codes to spend local tax dollars and resources to relocate the poor into newly built subsidized housing units. The chosen counties are also required to “proactively market the units to potential tenants who are least likely to apply, including African-American families and families with a member who has a disability.”
Why Aren’t They ‘Desegregating’ All Neighborhoods?
This “residential segregation” that HUD is trying to eliminate does not extend to Korean, Chinese, Jewish, Latino, or black neighborhoods, even though they are “rich with opportunity” that uniquely benefits the groups who built them. Come to think of it, Maryland is actually home to five of the top ten wealthiest black communities in America, but none of those neighborhoods has been targeted for HUD’s grand experiment of “affirmatively furthering fair housing.”
Wait a minute, aren’t black, Chinese, Jewish, Korean, and Latino communities residentially segregated? Let’s ignore that—it doesn’t fit the narrative, you see. Take a look at the NAACP’s definition of Section 8 housing and you’ll see the narrative quite clearly: “Section 8 is meant to encourage economic and racial integration and to enable historic victims of discrimination to live in communities of their own choosing.”
The historical reality is that Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 was implemented as a response to the Great Depression. Today, Section 8 is managed by—you guessed it—HUD. Many Section 8 communities have a waiting list thousands of families long, with a waiting period of three to six years. Often lotteries control access to these subsidized units, with priority given to the elderly, disabled, and veterans. There is nothing in this legislation about race. Let’s continue, shall we?
Let’s say hypothetically that your minority family represents five people out of the 46 million that live in poverty in the United States today. That shouldn’t be difficult—58 percent of the 46 million people living in poverty aren’t white. But wait, that means 42 percent of all Americans living in poverty are white? Yes, it does, but nevermind that.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tells us that “Housing discrimination is the unfinished business of civil rights… It goes right to the heart of our divide from one another. It goes right to the heart of whether you believe that African American people’s lives matter, that you respect them, that you believe they can be your neighbors, that you want them to play with your children.” This is not only false but terribly presumptuous. Why would “historic victims of discrimination” want to live with the people who “historically discriminated” against them? And what about the white families that don’t have access to wealthy neighborhoods?
It is always about race, especially when it isn’t. But back to our hypothetical: Your family has been struggling and living in a poor neighborhood for years. You don’t have a car, but that’s manageable because you’re able to take public transportation. Suddenly you are moved into an affluent suburb with HUD’s assistance because, well, how come these other people get to have a huge house in a quiet neighborhood?
They say that a world of new opportunity will be open to you, but fail to mention that suburban communities are home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country and that, for the first time in fifty years, job opportunities are increasing in city centers and decreasing in suburban areas. Maybe they haven’t told you that cities have between two and four times as many jobs available within a typical commuting distance as well as effective transportation infrastructures not found in suburban communities.
People Need to Be Responsible for Themselves
What about deciding where to live based on what you can afford? I have made choices in my life, and I live with them. As I approach 40, I often find myself wishing I had made more of an effort in college, or studied law instead of poetry. I would certainly have more options available to me now.
But the hard truth is that I don’t. My choices had consequences. When I was 18, I thought I would never want a house in the country or a 9-to-5 job. I thought I’d be a city-dwelling, poetry-writing liberal for the rest of my life, joyously suffering through poverty for the sake of my art. Oops. Also, barf.
The route my family takes to get to the grocery store takes us through a neighborhood of million-dollar homes, sprawling lawns, and driveways packed with shiny new cars. It’s quite a contrast to our apartment complex. Oftentimes I feel a pang of regret as we pass these homes. Occasionally, one of my children will innocently ask if we can have a house like that. I don’t like having to say no, but I have to because it’s true.
However I cannot and will not begrudge those who have achieved the kind of success that allows them access to these neighborhoods. When I was a young man, I could have worked several jobs to put myself slowly through community college. I could’ve fought my way into a better university. I could have gotten a degree that would have led to a six-figure job. But I didn’t. The people in these houses did. The black families did. The white families did. The Korean families did.
As long as liberal left-wing organizations like HUD and the NAACP continue to view the problem of poverty in America through purely racial terms, nothing will be accomplished. Five decades and more than $22 trillion has managed only to produce a government bureaucracy dependent on and empowered by grievance and victimhood.