May 24, 2016

Your friendly neighborhood social engineer

By Ethan W. Blevins Attorney

downloadThe Senate almost saved our neighborhoods from micromanagement last week. Almost. As you may recall, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) created a brazen new rule last year called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH). This rule promises to reshape the American neighborhood and wrest control of zoning decisions from local communities. HUD wants to engineer neighborhoods so they fit the demographic mold of progressive orthodoxy. Suburbs and towns across the United States will be forced to change zoning codes, relocate schools, and otherwise bow to a distant and unaccountable bureaucracy’s idea of human diversity. Sadly, last week, the Senate missed a chance to put an end to this blight on federalism.

Senate Republicans proposed two competing amendments to thwart the rule–one with teeth and one without. Senator Mike Lee’s amendment would defund the AFFH rule and put a decisive end to HUD’s overreaching. Senator Susan Collins’ amendment, though, presented a phony solution. The Collins Amendment says HUD can’t directly compel local governments “to undertake specific changes to existing zoning laws.” But that doesn’t fix the real problem. HUD already can’t commandeer local governments to do its bidding. Rather, HUD will hoist its agenda on local governments by threatening to withhold federal block grants that local governments depend upon. HUD could also sue communities for illegal discrimination. The Collins Amendment does not address either of these problems. It takes aim at a snark while it lets the tiger roam free.

So guess which of these amendments recently carried the day? Hint: the AFFH rule walked away intact. Perhaps Senator Lee’s amendment will get another chance once people begin to feel the impact of the AFFH rule. When housing prices rise. When neighborhoods get reshaped. When communities get sick of mummification by red tape. When people realize that the strings attached to federal money end in a noose. In the meantime, PLF won’t hesitate to resort to the courts to do what the Senate cannot.

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