Candidate Obama promised to fundamentally change the United States.
Little did we know how far his radicalism would go. In our federalist system, states retain authority over most of their affairs. But not in Obama’s America.
Do you think cities should be able to determine their own zoning laws? He doesn’t.
Do you think it is a good idea to give the Department of Housing and Urban Development unchecked power to put an apartment building in your neighborhood? HUD has proposed a new rule that could do just that.
In July, HUD published its long-awaited proposal on “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” in the Federal Register. It is a sweeping set of land-use regulations that has attracted little national attention. The agency wants the power to dismantle local zoning so communities have what it considers the right mix of economic, racial and ethnic diversity. A finding of discriminatory behavior, or allegations of discrimination, would no longer be necessary. HUD will supply “nationally uniform data” of what it thinks 1,200 communities should look like.
Local governments will have to “take meaningful actions to further the goals identified.” If they fail to comply, HUD can cut federal funding. Westchester County north of New York City has firsthand experience of what the rest of the nation can expect.
HUD and Westchester are battling over local zoning that arose from a 2009 settlement (signed by my predecessor) to build 750 affordable-housing units in 31 mostly white communities. Westchester is well ahead of schedule in meeting these obligations. Almost 400 units have financing and 124 are already occupied. But HUD isn’t satisfied because it wants to control local zoning and remake communities.
HUD has told Westchester that any limits on the size, type, height and density of buildings are “restrictive practices.” It demands that the county sue its localities over such common zoning regulations, which are not exclusionary by any stretch of the imagination. If HUD can define what constitutes exclusionary practices, then local zoning as it is known today disappears. Apartments, high rises or whatever else the federal government or a developer wants can be built on any block in America.
This is not hyperbole. Consider that HUD’s list of “restrictive practices” includes limits on density even around reservoirs that supply drinking water to New York City’s eight million residents. Who knew ensuring clean water was discriminatory?
HUD’s power grab is based on the mistaken belief that zoning and discrimination are the same. They are not. Zoning restricts what can be built, not who lives there.
In the 1970s, New York’s highest court, in cases known as the Berenson decisions, established rules for what constitutes exclusionary zoning. Westchester’s municipalities either voluntarily or through legal challenges have complied with these judicial rules. Any local zoning code also remains open to legal challenge. There are long-standing legal standards by which local zoning is judged and continually reviewed…