A proposed rule by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development seeks to bring affordable housing to communities where it is lacking in a move critics believe could take zoning power away from the hands of local communities.
The Fair Housing Act was originally passed to prevent people from being discriminated against as they seek to purchase or rent a new home. Some believe though that this law has not been effective enough.
“Having this new regulation will spell things out more clearly so jurisdictions will know what they are supposed to do to fulfill their affirmatively furthering housing obligations,” Debby Goldberg, a special project director at the National Fair Housing Alliance told The Daily Caller Thursday.
“We’ve learned a lot in the last 40 years or so since the Fair Housing Act has been passed about the benefits of diverse and inclusive communities,” Goldberg said. “Regions that have more diversity and are more inclusive have more robust economics, businesses do better when their workforce and customer base are more diverse, kids do better in school when their classmates are a more diverse bunch.”
As part of this proposed provision, HUD will give local communities data that includes concentrated areas poverty, and patterns of segregation.
“From these data, program participants will evaluate their present environment to assess fair housing issues, identify the primary determinants that account for those issues, and set forth fair housing priorities and goals.”
Some believe though that through the threat of withholding important funds, local communities will be stripped of their zoning powers.
This is what has led Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona to attach, and pass through the House an amendment on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which will prohibit HUD from implementing its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.
“It can definitely affect housing prices; It can be absolutely detrimental for a lot of communities, where they know what’s best for them. They know how to make the best decisions,” Steven Smith, press secretary for Rep. Gosar told TheDC.
Critics fear that if passed the provision could have an effect of districts similar to gerrymandering.
“This will definitely will be pushing communities to resemble like urban areas, where Democrats typically have more political support,” Smith said.
In the past, monies for affordable housing have been concentrated in poorer areas, though this rule seeks to shift affordable housing into, “communities that have lots of other good attributes; good schools, good jobs, good transportation, but don’t have any affordable housing or very limited affordable housing,” Goldberg said.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation, sees this less as a political problem and more of an abuse of federal power, in which Obama’s ideological views on what communities should look like are forced on local jurisdictions.
Not only that, but that, “This would speed up the decay of poor urban neighborhoods, because it is going to divert money out of those neighborhoods into wealthier areas of the country, and that runs directly contrariety to the whole purpose of the Fair Housing Act.”
“The law itself says, ‘the preference should be for placing money into poor neighborhoods because that is where they need federal money to improve housing.'”
The disparate impact theory, which is the basis for this provision, is currently up before the U.S Supreme Court. The plaintiffs believe that the Texas State Housing Authority practiced segregation by only placing funds for affordable housing in poorer neighborhoods.
Von Spakosky is confident the ruling will have the Supreme Court saying, “look, the Fair Housing Act only prohibits intentional discrimination you can’t use it under the disparate impact theory.”
The Obama administration seems to be hurrying up this provision before that ruling comes down, possibly fearing a ruling not in their favor.
Gosar’s office is confident Senate Republicans will make his amendment a priority to be included in the Senate version of the appropriations bill.
HUD and the White House have been keeping this new provision under the radar, and Smith believes, “that’s the strategy behind it because most people will be outraged to find out that the Federal government is trying to strip away local authority to their own communities.”