One of the primary goals of the Obama administration was to use the full force of the federal government to force red state, suburban, and rural areas to adopt policies designed to change them into urban blue state communities.
On the environmental side, this policy invasion took the form of punitive regulations against the mining industry and million-acre land grabs that undermined the grazing industry.
In education, this meant using the carrot of Department of Education grant funding and the stick of No Child Left Behind testing punishments to force local school boards to adopt the federal government’s preferred curriculum.
And in housing, it meant using Department of Housing and Urban Development grant programs to force local communities into building dense low-income housing.
President Donald Trump has begun to free local communities from Washington’s forced conversion.
He has rolled back multiple punitive mining regulations. He undid President Barack Obama’s 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. And just last week he delayed enforcement of the Housing and Urban Development regulation Obama was using to dictate zoning policies to communities across the United States.
These are all good first steps, but particularly on the housing front more needs to be done. Specifically, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson ought to begin the process of rescinding Obama’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule entirely.
Promulgated pursuant to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the rule has already proven to be an invasive and burdensome mess.
While no one disputes that the Fair Housing Act’s ban on racial, religious, and sexual discrimination fully fits within the federal government’s power, the law’s call for communities to “affirmatively further” other housing goals has proven controversial and divisive.
Should suburban communities be forced to build high-density low-income housing? Should small towns be forced to advertise their low-income housing stock to large cities? Should cities be forced to spread subsidized housing options throughout their jurisdiction?
The Obama administration believed the answer to every above question is a strong “yes,” and its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is designed to use Community Development Block Grant funding to turn the Department of Housing and Urban Development into basically a national zoning board.
Defenders of Obama’s housing power grab will tell you that federal law already prohibits Housing and Urban Development from mandating that localities adopt specific changes to their zoning laws. And that is true.
But the department has also figured out a way to circumvent that ban, and it works like this.
Instead of saying, “You are mandated to adopt these zoning laws and construct low-income housing,” which would be illegal, they say, “If you want Community Development Block Grant funding, you must first create a zoning plan. And if we approve your ‘voluntarily’ created plan, then we will give you grant money. If we don’t approve your ‘voluntary’ plan, then you get nothing.”
This is nothing short of federally funded blackmail.
I’ve made an effort to address this overreach by introducing S. 103, the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act in the Senate. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has introduced a companion bill, H.R. 482, in the House.
Our bills would stop federal funds from being used to implement, administer, or enforce Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, making it truly voluntary and giving local communities the ability to make their own housing decisions without financial threats from the federal government.
Our legislation is a long-term solution to the threat of a national zoning board, but Housing and Urban Development can take a more immediate step by rescinding the rule entirely.