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Obama Wants to Pick the Clintons’ Neighbors

The administration is forcing low-income housing into wealthy enclaves, whether or not anyone wants it

Wall Street Journal
By Jason L. Riley
June 16, 2015

Bill and Hillary Clinton are popular with black voters, but that doesn’t mean the couple wants to live around them. And vice versa. This reality troubles President Obama, though his remedy is what’s really troubling.

When the Clintons went house-hunting in 1999, neighborhood diversity wasn’t much of a priority. The family settled on a five-bedroom Colonial in Chappaqua, N.Y., a lush suburb north of New York City where the population is more than 90% white, less than 1% black and multimillion-dollar homes abound. No one has produced evidence of racial discrimination against buyers who can afford homes in Chappaqua and other wealthy enclaves of Westchester County, where the town is located. But monochrome residential housing patterns upset the sensibilities of officials in Mr. Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For the past six years, HUD has been hounding Westchester about building more low-income housing in places like Chappaqua. Federal officials have vowed to “hold people’s feet to the fire” and make an example of the county. “We’re clearly messaging other jurisdictions across the country that there has been a significant change in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and we’re going to ask them to pursue similar goals as well,” said a deputy secretary at HUD in 2009.

The comment followed the announcement of a settlement in a false-claims suit brought against the county by housing activists who accused Westchester of applying for a HUD grant without doing enough minority outreach to satisfy the federal agency’s “fair housing” goals. Westchester admitted no wrongdoing in the case, but the county executive at the time, a Democrat, cut a deal with HUD that required the county to build 750 subsidized-housing units over the next seven years and “affirmatively market affordable housing within the county and in geographic areas with significant non-white populations outside, but not contiguous with or within close proximity to, the county.” Got that?

In effect, the federal government is forcing wealthy Westchester municipalities to import low-income minorities. By extension, HUD is also compelling low-income minorities to live in overwhelmingly white communities, even though research has shown for decades that large majorities of blacks have no desire to live in all-white or even mostly white neighborhoods and strongly prefer to live where at least half of the other residents are black.

To his credit, Westchester’s current county executive, Republican Rob Astorino, has been pushing back against the terms of the settlement, which is still being litigated. The outcome is likely to have national ramifications. What is at stake is the loss of locally controlled residential zoning, and more such federal relocation edicts are almost certainly on the way.

Last week HUD announced that it was moving forward with new regulations that essentially will force about 1,250 communities nationwide to construct cheap housing units in wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods and then actively recruit poor minorities to move in. Local governments that don’t play ball will jeopardize federal grant money. What happened in Westchester is a taste of what may be coming to upscale parts of Houston, Dallas, Marin County, Calif., and other places that aren’t racially and economically diverse enough for this White House.

The Obama administration may find color-adjusted communities aesthetically pleasing, but people don’t sort themselves by neighborhood randomly, and government invites trouble with efforts to move poor people—of any color—into areas where they otherwise can’t afford to live. Twenty years ago, HUD nixed a national program that gave public-housing residents in places like Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles vouchers that enabled them to move into better neighborhoods that were predominantly white.

“The theory was elegant, the outcome anything but,” reported the New York Times. “The idea was that by scattering one or two poor families in large middle-income areas, they would disappear like salt crystals in a glass of water, quietly integrating themselves into communities where they would find more jobs, better schools and safer streets.” Instead, the effort “unleashed a firestorm of protest” over race and class “before any of these families were moved,” said the paper. Financing for the year-old program was canceled.

Seemingly incapable of learning from its blunders, HUD continues to try to engineer residential integration—even though public attitudes have evolved and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made housing discrimination illegal and Americans have shown themselves happy to decide where they’d like to live.

Since 1970, segregation has fallen significantly in every decade. In a 2012 paper for the Manhattan Institute, economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob Vigdor of Duke wrote that “all-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct” and that the dominant trend in black neighborhoods is population loss. “Particularly in the formerly hyper-segregated cities of the Northeast and Midwest, ghetto neighborhoods have witnessed profound population declines, as former residents decamp for the suburbs or for the rapidly growing cities of the Sun Belt—where segregation is generally very low.”

The Obama administration is acting less out of a need to address a problem and more out of a desire to expand the role of the federal government in yet another area of our lives.

Mr. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Journal contributor, is the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014).

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