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Obama’s HUD chief taking aim at suburban lifestyle

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From page A1 | December 27, 2013 |

Unchastened by the fiasco created by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Obama Administration is pushing ahead with yet another program aimed at “transforming” America.

Although still under discussion, a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” aims to integrate housing and give people access to better neighborhoods than the ones they currently live in.

A knockoff of affirmative action, the idea is for HUD to provide states, local governments and other entities that receive HUD money with data and a geospatial tool to look at “patterns of integration and segregation; racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty; (and) access to education, employment, low-poverty, transportation, and environmental health.”

States would then assess the best way to integrate communities not integrated enough, according to HUD’s information.

Shaun Donovan, who is the secretary of HUD and a leading advocate of using federal power to create what he calls “sustainable communities,” announced the program in a speech he gave at a NAACP convention held in July.

The American Dream still isn’t within equal reach of all communities, he lamented, saying there is a lack of diversity in America’s boardrooms, schools, and the nation’s strongest neighborhoods.

“We have got to shape a future where ladders of opportunity are available for all Americans,” Donovan said. “For African-Americans, this is critically important. Historically, for this community, the rungs on these ladders have been too far apart — making it harder to reach the middle class.”

Donovan said HUD’s new neighborhood mapping tool, which uses census data for every neighborhood in the country, would detail the access African-American, Latino, Asian, and other communities have to local assets, including schools, jobs, transportation, and other important neighborhood resources that can play a role in helping people move into the middle class.

“Make no mistake, this is a big deal,” Donovan said in his speech. “With the HUD budget alone, we are talking about billions of dollars. And as you know, decades ago, these funds were used to support discrimination. Now, they will be used to expand opportunity and bring communities closer to the American Dream.”

HUD has estimated compliance costs would range from $3 million to $9 million each year, however those numbers might be low considering the cost of all the lawsuits the new rule would engender.

Donovan boasted that 25,000 people have already been awarded damages due to “housing discrimination” and promised more to come. At the convention, he called on attendees to continue lobbying Congress to give more money and power to the administration as it works to “transform America.”

According to a summary of the rule, it has four primary goals. One is to improve integrated living patterns and overcome historical patterns of segregation. Another is to reduce racial and ethnic concentrations of poverty. A third is to reduce disparities by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability in access to community assets such as education, transit access, and employment. The fourth is to respond to the housing needs of protected classes.

HUD said the new rule also ties in with its grants to regional authorities to help build “sustainable” cities by relocating people near public transportation, jobs and services.

HUD plans to enforce the rule by attaching it to funding programs, including Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, Emergency Solutions Grant, and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS.

Pressure would also be applied using zoning laws, housing finance policy, infrastructure planning and transportation to alleviate alleged discrimination and segregation.

Assisting them in implementing the rule would be non-governmental organizations who would be eligible for grants.

However, the proposed rule already has its share of critics. Ed Pinto who is with the American Enterprise Institute, is quoted as saying, “This is just the latest of a series of attempts by HUD to social engineer the American people. It started with public housing and urban renewal, which failed spectacularly back in the ’50s and ’60s. They tried it again in the ’90s when they wanted to transform house finance, do away with down payments, and the result was millions of foreclosures and financial collapse.”

The proposed rule would also seem to be at odds with the idea of fostering a sense of community. According to a recent study at Michigan State University published in the November edition of the American Journal of Community Psychology, “community and diversity may be fundamentally incompatible goals.”

The study notes that, “integration provides opportunities for intergroup contact that are necessary to promote respect for diversity, but may prevent the formation of dense interpersonal networks that are necessary to promote sense of community.”

The authors of the study concluded that the more diverse or integrated a neighborhood is, the less socially cohesive it becomes, while the more homogeneous or segregated it is, the more socially cohesive.

The proposed rule also comes at the time of a contentious fight between New York’s Westchester County and the Obama administration over a desegregation settlement in which the county agreed to build 750 affordable houses and flats in majority-white communities and market them to nonwhites currently living in New York City.

HUD has since cut off $17 million in funding to Westchester because it refused to sue local municipalities to modify their zoning ordinances to accommodate more subsidized housing. HUD claims the ordinances, which set limits on building density, are racially “exclusionary.”

However, according to Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, “Washington bureaucrats, who you will never see or meet, want the power to determine who will live where and how each neighborhood will look. What’s at stake is the fundamental right of our cities, towns, and villages to plan and zone for themselves.

“HUD has said that even quarter-acre (lot) single-family zoning, in their view, may very well be discriminatory and perpetuate ‘segregation,’” Astorino said. “And must be looked at, and even maybe attacked.”
Claiming that what is happening in his community will happen everywhere, Astorino said, “The battle for zoning in Westchester County (will be) the battle everywhere.”

Local county planning officials were contacted for a comment but they were unaware of the proposed new rule since it has yet to go into effect.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

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Dawn Hodson

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