The Corner

Politics & Policy

Will Biden’s War on the Suburbs Become a Campaign Issue?

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Somersworth, N.H., February 5, 2020. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

In remarks Tuesday in the White House Rose Garden, President Trump promised to reverse what is arguably the most radical action of the Obama-Biden administration: promulgation of the rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). Trump went beyond his tweet of a couple of weeks ago, when he said he “may” end the rule. Now he says he will in fact “take out” AFFH. This will need to be by amendment or modification, since the Obama-Biden AFFH is actually a wild over-reading of the phrase “affirmatively further” in current law.

The president said that coming from New York, he’d been following the Westchester County controversy for years. As I explain in Spreading the Wealth, the Obama administration ran a test of what would someday become his AFFH rule in suburban Westchester County, New York. The Obama administration effectively stripped Westchester County of its zoning power, forced it to spend tens of millions of dollars on high-density low-income housing, then ordered it to “affirmatively advertise” that housing to non-residents. In effect, the federal government took over Westchester and forced it to suspend its own laws and spend its tax money on non-residents. All this occurred without evidence, or even allegation, of housing discrimination. Westchester was actually one of the most diverse counties in New York at the time. Such demographic “imbalances” as existed there were a function of economics, not discrimination.

After the Obama-Biden administration intervened, Westchester’s local government flipped from Democratic to Republican. Rob Astorino was elected county executive and fought the Obama administration for years, although his hands were largely tied by a legal agreement signed by the previous Democratic county executive. (Astorino is now running for state senate, by the way, in a hotly contested race.) That gives you a sense of how powerful AFFH can be as a political issue. AFFH flipped the county that Bill and Hillary Clinton call home from blue to red. The question is whether President Trump will make AFFH and Biden’s anti-suburban plans an issue in the presidential election. The answer, I think, is “probably.”

Keep an eye out for what comes next. Does the president end the rule sooner, or only later? Does the action come in a passing press release, or perhaps an event complete with extended presidential remarks? That will be the first clue as to what role, if any, Biden’s anti-suburban policies will play in the campaign. It will be tough for the president to expose Biden’s war on the suburbs until the Trump administration has put the Obama-Biden AFFH to bed.

I think Biden’s promise to resurrect and supercharge AFFH is likely to enter the campaign. I’ve argued that Biden and the Democrats plan to “abolish the suburbs,” and it’s notable that the president used the phrase “abolish the suburbs” in his remarks. Everything from his tweet of two weeks ago to his remarks yesterday in the Rose Garden points to his intention to make a campaign issue out of Biden’s anti-suburban promises and plans. Even so, we’ll have to wait and see. Stay tuned.


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