The omnibus spending bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2016 is upon us — funding for the so-called discretionary portion of the federal government runs out on Dec. 11 — and that means there is another opportunity for Congress to assert its constitutional power of the purse.
One defund House and Senate leaders might look at is an amendment to the Transportation and HUD appropriations bill by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) defunding implementation of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation, “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.”
The rule conditions eligibility for community development block grants upon compliance with the rule — which on its face will require redrawing zoning maps to achieve racial and income integration when a municipality is merely accused by HUD of not being in compliance. In 2014, HUD dispersed about $3.4 billion of these grants to about 1,200 counties and cities.
The defund passed the House of Representatives by a 229-193 vote on June 9.
The rule has raised so much concern among local planners that Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), a former mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, appealed to HUD Secretary Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, saying at a House Financial Services Committee hearing earlier this year, “I know that as a mayor you wouldn’t want the federal government coming in to tell you what to do with your zoning laws and with your rules because you have more skin in the game. You have more of an incentive to take care of the people that live in your areas. You’re the boots on the ground.”
To which, Castro assured Love, “This is not about changing zoning laws, planning laws — anything like that.” It isn’t?
It sure does appear the rule affects changes to local zoning ordinances — since it says so.
Specifically, it does so by directing program participants including municipalities “to examine relevant factors, such as zoning and other land-use practices that are likely contributors to fair housing concerns, and take appropriate actions in response.”
HUD has also proposed the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Assessment Tool” “for use by each program participant to evaluate fair housing choice in its jurisdiction, to identify barriers to fair housing choice at the local and regional levels, and to set and prioritize fair housing goals to overcome such barriers and advance fair housing choice.”
In preparation for implementing the regulation, HUD has released template racial rezoning maps and data tables to be used in each community development block grant recipient area.
The tool’s worksheet orders the assessing bureaucrat using the maps and data to “identify neighborhoods or areas in the jurisdiction and region where racial/ethnic groups are segregated and indicate the predominant groups for each.”
Additionally, the bureaucrat must identify the extent the following factors “contribut[e] to segregated housing patterns” including “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; Occupancy restrictions; Residential real estate steering; Patterns of community opposition; Economic pressures, such as increased rents or land and development costs; Major private investments; Municipal or State services and amenities; and Foreclosure patterns.”
The program needs to be defunded.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development does not even want Congress to know what it is really happening with its racial and income zoning quotas that Secretary Castro is willing to go on the record with erroneous information about the rule in testimony before relevant committees. Rep. Love deserves credit for exposing what amounts to a cover-up by Castro.
Defunding “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” should be easy for House and Senate leaders to get done, particularly given the Department’s attempts to mislead Congress about what the regulation does.
This is a battle that can be won. President Barack Obama is not going to shut the government down over a provision almost nobody has even heard of, and even if he did, the politics for Democrats on this issue are abysmal.
The administration’s only argument would have to be that when many Americans purchased or rented their homes, they were fundamentally racist in their decision because they chose to live in a nice neighborhood.
In the meantime, individual, real cases of housing discrimination have been illegal for nearly 50 years. Zoning determines what can be built where, not who gets to live there. Those decisions are made by individuals when they purchase or rent in the real estate market, and are subject to what can afforded and proximity to work, economic factors mostly that government cannot affect by changes to local zoning ordinances.
Not everyone gets to live in nice neighborhoods, and Congress must not be funding regulations that empower the Obama administration to redraw every neighborhood in America according to its utopian vision — especially when the administration is lying about it to Congress. This is as out-of-control as the federal government has ever been, and almost nothing of local government will remain if this regulation stays in effect. It’s that bad.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.