Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: Obama Has A Plan To Diversify Wealthy ‘White’ Neighborhoods

The Obama administration is moving forward with a controversial plan to bring racial diversity into neighborhoods across America. But conservatives object to the proposal, saying it is yet another example of Obama’s abuse of executive powers.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), headed by Julian Castro, widely tipped as Hillary Clinton’s running mate if she wins the Democratic primaries, proposed the plan known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule.

According to an HUD spokesperson, the purpose of the proposed rule is to end the deep-rooted pattern of segregation in communities across the country.

The plan will offer grant money as an incentive for communities to implement affordable housing projects in wealthier neighborhoods with better facilities. It will discourage the practice of making funds for affordable housing more available in poorer minority neighborhoods — a practice which critics argue promotes racial segregation by forcing minorities who want to move to continue living in poor communities with poor facilities.

While attempting to encourage affordable housing projects in wealthier, mostly white neighborhoods, it will also move to upgrade facilities in poorer communities.

According to an HUD spokeswoman, the “HUD is working with communities across the country to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity for all. The proposed policy seeks to break down barriers to access to opportunity in communities supported by HUD funds.”

Cities will qualify to access dedicated funds by proposing workable plans to redress patterns of segregation in neighborhoods.

Civil rights advocates are applauding the proposal, saying it will redress the negative consequences of racist redlining policies of the past that created the ghettos and trapped minorities in poor neighborhoods, thus limiting their economic and social mobility.

Redlining refers to the policy of systematically denying banking services, insurance, access to health care and other essential economic, financial and social services to residents of predominantly black inner city neighborhoods. For instance, the practice of discriminatory mortgage lending targeted against people living in black neighborhoods was widespread in the 1960s and 1970s and ensured the emergence of the ghettos.

Supporters argue that despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, meant to end discriminatory housing policies, including discriminatory mortgage lending, subtle yet powerful and effective forms of housing discrimination have persisted.

Debby Goldberg, vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told The Hill that Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation will redress policies that restricted affordable housing to poor minorities.

Margery Turner, vice president at the Urban Institute, also said the policy will help to redress discriminatory policies of the past that led to segregated housing and trapped minorities in the ghettos.

“This rule is not about forcing anyone to live anywhere they don’t want to. It’s really about addressing long-standing practices that prevent people from living where they want to… In our country, decades of public policies and institutional practices have built deeply segregated and unequal neighborhoods.”

According to Turner, it will help to redress the ill-effects of segregation on minorities. She said that racially segregated housing, which restricts minorities to poor communities, adversely affects the prospects of young people by limiting their access to improved education and health facilities.

But conservatives are kicking against the proposed regulation, saying that it is unrealistic.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) is spearheading efforts in the House to block the initiative. The House voted 229-193 Wednesday for an amendment to the HUD funding bill that will prohibit HUD from proceeding with the rule.

Gosar argued that the initiative was yet another plan by Obama to “punish communities that don’t submit to the president’s liberal ideology.”

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“[The administration] shouldn’t be holding hostage grant monies aimed at community improvement based on its unrealistic utopian ideas of what every community should resemble.”

Despite HUD’s argument that AFFH is designed to allow Americans choose where they want to live, Gosar argued it will have the opposite effect – prevent Americans from exercising freedom to “choose where they would like to live.”

“Instead of living with neighbors you like and choose this breaks up the core fabric of how we start to look at communities. That just brings unease to everyone. [Americans should be] free to choose where they would like to live… People have to feel comfortable where they live. If I don’t feel comfortable in my own backyard, where do I feel comfortable?”

According to Gosar, the plan will impact negatively on property values, raise taxes and shift the balance of political power as poor Democratic-leaning people move in to Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a critic of the Obama administration with the Conservative Heritage Foundation, accused the administration of being “too race conscious.”

However, analysts say that a decision by the Supreme Court expected in the next few weeks in a related case that considers the implications of government policies that have a disparate impact on minorities will help to clarify issues involved in the debate over the AFFH rule.

[Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images]