The Corner

Massive Government Overreach: Obama’s AFFH Rule Is Out

Under new management? (Gary Blakeley/Dreamstime)

Today, HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced the finalization of the Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. A front-page article preemptively defending the move appears in today’s Washington Post. The final rule is 377 pages, vastly longer than the preliminary version of the rule promulgated in 2013.

AFFH is easily one of President Obama’s most radical initiatives, on a par with Obamacare in its transformative potential. In effect, AFFH gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education. Not only the policy but the political implications are immense — at the presidential, congressional, state, and local levels.

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It is a scandal that the mainstream press has largely refused to report on AFFH until the day of its final release. The rule has been out in preliminary form for two years, and well before that the Obama administration’s transformative aims in urban/suburban policy were evident. Three years ago, when I wrote about Obama’s policy blueprint in Spreading the Wealth: How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, the administration’s efforts to keep this issue under the radar were evident. Only last month, an admission of the stealth relied on by advocates to advance this initiative was caught on video.

Obama has downplayed his policy goals in this area and delayed the finalization of AFFH for years, because he understands how politically explosive this rule is. Once the true implications of AFFH are understood, Americans will rebel. The only prospect for successful imposition is a frog-boiling strategy of gradual intensification. The last day the frog will be able to jump is Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

Fundamentally, AFFH is an attempt to achieve economic integration. Race and ethnicity are being used as proxies for class, since these are the only hooks for social engineering provided by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Like AFFH itself, today’s Washington Post piece blurs the distinction between race and class, conflating the persistence of “concentrated poverty” with housing discrimination by race. Not being able to afford a freestanding house in a bedroom suburb is no proof of racial discrimination. Erstwhile urbanites have been moving to rustic and spacious suburbs since Cicero built his villa outside Rome. Even in a monoracial and mono-ethnic world, suburbanites would zone to set limits on dense development.

Emily Badger’s piece in today’s Washington Post focuses on race, but the real story of AFFH is the attempt to force integration by class, to densify development in American suburbs and cities, and to undo America’s system of local government and replace it with a “regional” alternative that turns suburbs into helpless satellites of large cities. Once HUD gets its hooks into a municipality, no policy area is safe. Zoning, transportation, education, all of it risks slipping into the control of the federal government and the new, unelected regional bodies the feds will empower. Over time, AFFH could spell the end of the local democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw as the foundation of America’s liberty and distinctiveness.

At this point, municipalities across the country need to seriously consider refraining from applying for Community Development Block Grants and other grant programs sponsored by HUD. Take one dollar of HUD money and you will be forced to submit to its demands, which can reach far beyond housing. Unfortunately, this is a highly imperfect solution, and not only because municipalities would be surrendering money taxed from their citizens’ pockets. The recent Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project has provided the federal government with a second club to use against municipalities seeking to escape HUD control. (See my piece on Inclusive Communities in the latest issue of National Review.) Ultimately, only a Republican president acting in concert with a Republican Congress can stymie AFFH and undo the damage of the Supreme Court’s recent housing decision.

This brings us to politics. As noted, AFFH is a largely unacknowledged attempt to force economic integration on every neighborhood in America. Yet in a recent Rasmussen poll, 83 percent of respondents said it was not the government’s job to diversify neighborhoods by income level, while only 8 percent say that this is an appropriate task for government. Now you know why the Obama administration and a compliant press corps have kept this initiative quiet.

It will take time to collect the data on which HUD’s new demands for local governments all over America will be based. While important enforcement will begin under the Obama administration, the major impact of AFFH will come under President Hillary Clinton, should she be elected. And Obama’s AFFH enforcer, Julian Castro, is widely touted as a likely vice-presidential running mate for Hillary. That means AFFH is going to be an issue in the next presidential campaign.

And the political implications go deeper still, to every level of government. Westchester County, New York, where AFFH has had a dry run of sorts, is now administered by Republican county executive Robert Astorino. Many forget that before the Obama administration tried to force Westchester County to cast aside its own zoning laws and build high-density, low-income housing at its own expense, Westchester was a liberal Democratic county run by liberal Democrats. After all, this is where Bill and Hillary Clinton live. At the local level, the Obama administration drove Westchester into the arms of the Republicans. The same thing could happen nationally, at every political level. But only if the frog wakes up and jumps by November of 2016. Even with AFFH now public, the Obama administration and the press corps will do everything in their power to obscure the real issues at stake in the massive AFFH power-grab. Don’t let that happen.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at comments.kurtz@nationalreview.com.

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