For 50 years environmentalists have told Americans that suburbs are bad. They are boring and conformist. There isn’t enough friction between different groups and classes to make life stimulating or spur deep thoughts. Living in single family homes, spread over large areas, is wasteful. This ruins the land. They consume too much energy. They require automobiles, which take too much energy, cause terrible pollution, and require additional roads, which are ugly, and lead to more suburbs… and so on.
So you’d think that the most woke, hard-left presidential campaign in American history would have a plan to make American cities better for those who live there, including the poor, especially at this moment when the middle class is fleeing irresponsible, profligate and unsafe urban governance, bad schools, and the density that leads to the spread of disease, like, say, Covid-19.
You'd be wrong. Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced his housing policy platform, to great cheers from the socialist, Bernie Sanders wing of his party. There will be no enterprise zones to foster job growth in neighborhoods where intergenerational welfare dependence is common. Instead, Joe’s plan relies on shipping the poor to those boring, energy inefficient suburbs.
The Biden policy, called AFFH (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing), is couched in terms of racial "fairness." In fact, it is a radical plan that would crush the ability of American citizens to choose what kind of community in which to live. It would destroy the attributes that make the suburbs the destination of choice for 52% of Americans. We know this because the policy is not new. AFFH was widely imposed, and somewhat less widely implemented, during the Obama administration, by radical Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) is a legal requirement that federal agencies and federal grantees further the purposes of the Fair Housing Act. This obligation to affirmatively further fair housing has been in the Fair Housing Act since 1968 (for further information see Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. 3608 and Executive Order 12892). HUD's AFFH rule provides an effective planning approach to aid program participants in taking meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.
As provided in the rule, AFFH means "taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics. Specifically, affirmatively furthering fair housing means taking meaningful actions that, taken together, address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. The duty to affirmatively further fair housing extends to all of a program participant's activities and programs relating to housing and urban development."
The nut of AFFH is a redefinition of the longstanding definition of “fair housing.” Traditionally that term meant no discrimination by race, sex, or other unalterable human attributes. The Obama Administration, by fiat, decided that “fair housing” would henceforth include economic class, as if civil rights for African Americans is synonymous with access to live in places that individuals cannot pay for. So, if not many people of a certain ethnic group live in a certain suburb, either because they cannot afford it, or they prefer somewhere else, that demonstrates racial discrimination. The remedy is forced integration by means of building low income and Section 8 housing for the poor and very poor, with an eye on creating a racial mix too.
The unspoken, because obvious, nature of American suburban life, is that people gravitate to places with other people who share their values. Those include safety; quality of schools; access to appropriate job markets; proximity to particular religious and cultural institutions; and social comfort. Most Americans, of all races, say that their priority is finding the best quality of public education they can afford.
Because suburban housing is allocated by the market – what can you afford to pay? – neighbors have a comparable stake in preserving the schools, the environment, and other goods. This is codified in local zoning laws, designed by local representatives, to create or preserve a town’s density, leafiness, school quality, and nature and location of commercial strips. It is not an overstatement to say that the Biden policy literally decimates each mechanism for preservation of local character. In the process it severely mitigates freedom of association, and, property rights as we have known them.
Land in those leafy suburbs with zoning for one-acre lots, and homes starting in the mid-six figures, is way too expensive on which to build taxpayer funded housing. Which means that local zoning laws cannot stand. So local control cedes to federal mandates. Then HUD requires your town to build high density apartments to house people with half or less the local median income. Coming from urban projects, they usually don’t have cars. Now your town needs public transportation. It needs a denser commercial area, so people can shop without cars. The schools will have to spend money on programs to accommodate children with different educational needs. You need a bigger police force, because studies show that crime follows Section 8 housing. Et voila: your community is quasi-urban; the value of your property is down; and your taxes are higher, because you are now obligated to pay for the needs of your new neighbors.
As the middle class has been pushed out of many cities, leaving behind the very wealthy and the poor, urban tax bases have shrunk. Urban/poverty policy types want to send the poor to middle and upper middle-class suburbs, because that’s where the money is. They want access to the suburban tax base, to fund the ever-growing list of quasi-socialist demands, to provide luxuries in the name of "fairness," whether or not people have earned it.
While they’re at it, Democrats are happy to destroy the culture of individualism fostered by one family, one house. People who earn their way into better communities often vote Republican. Low-income people in high rises, dependent on public transportation, want different things from government. It’s not an accident that they are importing enough Democrats to change suburban political outcomes.
Why does an energy website care about this issue?
The Biden housing policy it is a clear example of how the left, working through issue organizations, and ultimately through Democratic administrations, will use any excuse – any real or imagined social and cultural problem—to steer this country towards socialism. Fifty years of stated environmental policy, based on energy concerns, pollution, and efficiency, are tossed the instant a plan to federalize the suburbs appears.
Funny thing: the Democrats have not changed their stated views on the harm to the environment caused by cars and suburbs. Candidate Biden’s energy policy, released this past week, allots $2 trillion to avert the destruction of the planet by getting rid of carbon emissions, building higher density communities, and lots of new public transportation. Even if no one wants to live in cities. So they push endless spending, destruction of the communities citizens have created organically, and ever-increasing federal control of every aspect of how Americans live, while forcing the struggling middle class to pay for those who, for whatever reason, cannot earn their way up the ladder.
Because it’s never about what they say. It’s about accruing power, by destroying individual rights.