Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Who will be your neighbor?
On Your Right
Forget Mister Rogers. The Obama Administration will now tell you who will be your neighbor.
On July 8 — with national attention focused on the perilously bad deal with a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced the implementation of sweeping new regulations, which threaten to halt federal funds to cities, counties and other municipalities tat do not make “suggested” changes to zoning laws and other “potentially discriminatory” barriers to construction of low-income housing in wealthier neighborhoods. Call it the Don Corleone version of urban renewal.
These new rules were actually introduced in mid-2013 by then-Secretary Shaun Donovan, who argued they were necessary because “no matter how hard a child or her parents work, the life chances of that child, even her lifespan, is determined by the zip code she grows up in.” The draft then disappeared into the public-comment process, resurfacing only two weeks ago. Evidently, there was a lot of public comment, most of it in the vein of Ed Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute, who compared this latest attempt at social engineering to the failed policies of public housing and urban renewal of the ’50s and ’60s — and to the more recent mandates on bank lending processes, which brought about the unpleasantness of 2008-present.
But, never mind all that; this time, it will be different and fabulous. In spite of being exactly the same. Secretary Castro even used the phrase Donovan did in introducing Obama’s Brave New World of housing: “A ZIP code should never determine a child’s future.”
The new rules are shot through with subjective phrases, the devil’s playground of the Left: “potentially discriminatory,” “possible impact,” “disparate impact,” “disproportionate effect” and “significantly higher” are only a few. Absent quantification, who determines all of these? The regulators. What could possibly go wrong there?
I will admit the idea has a certain appeal. I’ve always wanted to live in Washington, D.C.’s, Georgetown neighborhood or Great Falls in Virginia. Failing that, in the Hamptons or Hollywood Hills. But, as a person of modest means, I haven’t a prayer of getting an appropriate down payment together. Now, however, my dreams appear to be achievable — except when one examines the caveats and calculators accompanying the 377-page rule document.
“Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” requires municipalities “to perform an assessment of land use decisions and zoning to evaluate their possible impact on fair housing choice.” As a clarification, HUD offers this: “An example of disproportionate housing needs would be found when a significantly higher proportion of the jurisdiction’s black residents experience a severe cost burden when compared to the proportion of the jurisdiction’s white residents.” So, I guess my dream of a Georgetown townhome will remain just that — it’s about the color of my skin, not the content of my character.
A companion “Fair Housing Assessment Tool,” counts “land use and zoning laws, such as minimum lot sizes, limits on multi-unit properties, height limits or bedroom-number limits as well as requirements for special use permits (and) occupancy restrictions” among “factors contributing to segregated housing patterns.” This suggests that the communities of Summit County, which have many of the above restrictions and more, might be at the top of the list for HUD restrictions, but does anyone think that our reliably Democrat corner of paradise would really be in line for a hammering by the Feds? If you do, you haven’t been keeping up with current events: the Leftie Toffs of San Francisco’s Mission Bay and the limousine Liberals of Central Park West needn’t be concerned. This rule, like IRS regulations and national security investigations, will have a “disproportionate effect” on those pesky agglomerations of conservatives, which must be harried and crushed — in the name of the public good, of course.
These new regulations are another among many recent manifestations of a principal concern shared by Founders and anti-Federalists alike in the Constitutional debate: how to prevent those who control a strong central government from using its powers to reward their supporters and punish their enemies. Some Framers, like Jay and Hamilton, argued that the conflict of multiple “interests” and public odium toward any expression of “monarchism” would be sufficient. Others, like Madison and a skeptical George Mason, argued for specific balks to the arrogation of too much power; the final document and its integral first 10 amendments reflect their cautions.
But, any such balks, whether explicit or implied, social or structural, only function to the degree that they have the support of the public. Unfortunately, we now see a public unconcerned with a national government so metastasized and intrusive that it sees no problem in telling you who can live next door. It’ll get to the rest of your life in a bit, if you let it.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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