I’m sorry to report that Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has just filed an amendment designed to make senators look like they’re fighting AFFH, when in fact they’re doing nothing. The Collins amendment simply gives cover to senators afraid to support Mike Lee’s powerful AFFH defund amendment. Any senator who votes for Collins’ AFFH amendment instead of Lee’s AFFH defund is doing absolutely nothing besides pulling the wool over their constituents’ eyes.
Here’s how the trick works. Collins’ amendment says that HUD cannot “direct a grantee to undertake specific changes to existing zoning laws as part of carrying out” enforcement of AFFH. That is a meaningless requirement. Federal law already forbids HUD from mandating the spending priorities of state and local governments or forcing grant recipients to forgo their duly adopted policies or laws, including zoning laws.
AFFH gets around this prohibition by setting up a situation in which a locality can’t get any federal grant money unless it “voluntarily” promises to change its zoning laws and change its housing policies in exactly the way HUD wants. So instead of HUD saying to a county: “We order you to abolish your zoning laws and build high-density low-income housing,” HUD says, “We order you to conduct an analysis of your housing needs and offer a plan of action that we deem acceptable, and only then will you get your HUD grant.” But of course the only “voluntary analyses and plans” HUD will accept are those that lead to the abolition of zoning laws and the construction of high-density low-income housing.
It’s like someone who refuses to say straight out loud, “I’ll only give you the money if you jump over that fence.” But who won’t ever give you the money until you “voluntarily” jump over the fence. This trick allows HUD to avoid formally “directing” localities to do anything at all in order to get their HUD grants. But HUD gives localities plenty of informal “guidance” that makes it perfectly clear what they actually have to do to get their federal grants.
I’ve already shown how HUD has used this trick to accuse Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino of lying about the federal government’s heavy-handed demands, when all Astorino is really doing is exposing HUD’s unspoken agenda.
It’s all an elaborate Kabuki dance to avoid violating the law by openly “directing” localities to change their zoning laws. So the Collins amendment will be circumvented in exactly the same way AFFH already circumvents other legal prohibitions against HUD interference in local policy-making. In other words, the Collins Amendment is a joke. It ‘s designed to fool you into thinking your senators have undercut AFFH, when in fact they’ve left it completely untouched.
The only good thing about the Collins Amendment is that it shows the Lee amendment is beginning to worry supporters of AFFH. This battle can still be won, but we’re at the critical moment. If you oppose AFFH, then consider contacting your senators and urging them to vote for the Lee Amendment defunding AFFH. And let them know you won’t be fooled by the Collins Amendment’s bogus diversion.