This is what you get when you put a community organizer in the White House — he tries to reorganize your community from Washington.
Apparently, President Obama thinks your neighborhood may not be inclusive enough, so he has instructed his Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue a new rule called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which is designed to force communities to diversify.
According to the Obama administration, in too many neighborhoods “housing choices continue to be constrained through housing discrimination, the operation of housing markets, [and] investment choices by holders of capital.” (Yes, that is a quote from an actual HUD document, not a bad undergraduate thesis on Karl Marx.)
Under Obama’s proposed rule, the federal government will collect massive amounts of data on the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of thousands of local communities, looking for signs of “disparities by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability in access to community assets.” Then the government will target communities with results it doesn’t like and use billions of dollars in federal grant money to bribe or blackmail them into changing their zoning and housing policies.
This is not about blocking housing discrimination, which has been illegal since 1968. It is unlawful for someone to deny you a loan or prevent you from buying a home because of your race, creed or color. Socioeconomic status is — and ought to be — another matter. If you want to buy a nice house in the suburbs, you have to be able to afford it. Apparently, Obama thinks that’s unfair discrimination by the “holders of capital.”
Putting decisions about how local communities are run in the hands of federal bureaucrats is an assault on freedom. Local autonomy is essential to liberty. As Milton Friedman put it in “Capitalism and Freedom,” “If I don’t like what my local community does, be it in sewage disposal, zoning or schools, I can move to another local community. . . . If I don’t like what my state does, I can move to another. If I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations.” Washington has no business imposing decisions about zoning and housing policies on thousands of local communities.
The proposed rule could become an issue in the presidential race. HUD Secretary Julian Castro, the man assigned to implement this new policy, is on everyone’s shortlist to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Moreover, as National Review’s Stanley Kurtz points out, collecting all the data will take time — which means decisions about how to use that data will be up to the next president, whoever that turns out to be.
Local communities across the United States will be up in arms over this rule — and rightly so. The federal government should have no say over whether your neighborhood is too Jewish, or too Caucasian, or has too many married couples. But Republicans need to be very careful. Democrats want the GOP to rail against this rule and see it as an opportunity to paint the Republicans as the party that wants to protect the wealthy, white suburbs and keep out poor people of color.
Conservatives need to make this absolutely clear: We believe Americans of all races, colors and creeds should be free to live wherever they want. And we want to help them do so by unleashing economic opportunity for those at the bottom so that more Americans can get better educations and better jobs and ultimately move to better neighborhoods.
Under Obama, those opportunities have been disappearing for Americans at the bottom of our economy. While he talks a good game about inequality, the poor have gotten poorer while the rich have gotten richer on Obama’s watch. During the Obama recovery, Americans in the top 5 percent of households (those with average incomes of more than $320,000) were the only group in the United States to see incomes rise from 2009 to 2013. Meanwhile, those worst hit were in the bottom 20 percent, who saw their real incomes fall by 7 percent on average. As American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks explains , “Our putatively progressive president has inadvertently executed a plutocratic tour de force.”
Having Washington micromanage the housing and zoning policies of thousands of local communities is not going to change this. The answer is not to force local governments to build affordable housing in affluent communities. The answer is to restore upward mobility in the United States so that more people can afford housing in affluent communities.