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Biden’s Executive Order on Housing: Replacing old sins with new ones
President Biden’s flood of executive orders has now spread to housing policy – and the promise to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to “fair living”. Specifically, this would mean reversing the Trump reversal of an Obama-era rule known as “Affirmative Promotion of Fair Housing” – with the goal of providing “affordable” (read “subsidized”) housing in higher-income zip codes in suburban areas to introduce. To justify a return to these controversial policies, President Biden rehearsed a long litany of the sins of federal housing policy. He is right in many cases – but wrong about his approach to redress. More subsidized housing in the tragic tradition of public housing will only fuel the split and help minority groups little in their striving for upward mobility. It is indisputable, as President Biden stated in his Executive Ordinance: “During the 20th century, the federal, state and local governments systematically implemented racially discriminatory housing policies that contributed to segregated neighborhoods and prevented equal opportunities and the chance to build prosperity for blacks, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Native American families, and other underserved communities. “Most importantly, the Federal Housing Agency wouldn’t insure mortgages for blacks in white neighborhoods, and race agreements – deed restrictions on blacks (and Jews, by the way) – were the norm until the 1950s. Urban highways plowed through low-income, often (though not exclusively) minority neighborhoods, displacing thousands. Today we’re left with the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Chrysler Freeway. However, this excuse is also selective. African Americans in particular suffered from the tragedy of one (still) favored progressive program: public housing. A key story is underestimated here. Historically black neighborhoods – Central Harlem, Detroit’s Black Bottom, Chicago’s Bronzeville, Desoto-Carr in St. Louis – have been denigrated as slums, despite the fact that they were home to large numbers of residential property owners and hundreds of black-owned businesses. When they were evacuated to make way for public housing, they were replaced with high-rise buildings, where ownership – accumulation of assets – was by definition impossible. The social fabric of self-help, civil society and upward mobility was torn apart. Blacks were and are always disproportionately represented in public and otherwise subsidized apartments and often found themselves in long-term dependency through counterproductive measures: When their income rises, the rent rises too. Compensating for this double history of outright racism and harmful progressivism must not mean a new generation of housing sins. But positive promotion of fair living, should it be restored, is just that. Federal pressure – through the leverage of local aid programs – to force the introduction of subsidized rental housing for low-income tenants has long been a guarantee of resistance from white and black Lower middle class residents who were rightly concerned that households that hadn’t tried and saved to make it into their neighborhoods will pose problems. The concentration of voucher tenants dispersed by the demolition of some public housing projects has already spread malfunction and poor maintenance – including in residential buildings in Warrensville Heights, the hometown of Marcia Fudge, Ohio, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Racial integration and fair living remain goals America must strive for. But that means understanding how neighborhoods work. Americans, black and white, choose themselves to live in areas where they share the socio-economic characteristics of their neighbors. Some liberals may not like this – but so are their personal choices. When members of minorities share the economic and educational background of new neighbors, the likelihood of intolerance is greatly reduced. Therefore “fair living” should mean non-discrimination – no subsidized new developments. Instead, Biden is doubling the example of the Obama administration in Westchester County, which was forced to spend $ 60 million on subsidizing 874 housing units – in a county where racial and ethnic minorities are already well represented. That means current Black and Hispanic homeowners who bought their homes through the pursuit of saving must use their district taxes to subsidize others at $ 68,000 per home. The “exclusive” suburbs are not pried open by confrontation. There will be endless complaints. Instead, if HUD is to play a useful role, it must try to use tools like model zoning (proposals, not mandates) to convince local planning boards that the market can build naturally occurring, affordable housing – small homes, including small ones Apartment buildings, on small lots. Historically, the American working class could afford such a home. A government genuinely interested in correcting the housing policy sins of the past would not overlook the existing problems of public and subsidized housing. Here’s a bold idea: Selling public housing projects on high quality real estate (see Brooklyn Waterfront) and providing cash compensation to residents. They should be able to move where they want – or just put the money aside. There is a lot to correct in our housing past. Doubling down on previous sins is not the beginning.