Under a sweeping new federal housing mandate, the Obama administration threatens to withhold funding for cities and counties that fail to remove local zoning laws and other potentially “discriminatory barriers” that restrict low-income housing in wealthy neighborhoods.
More than 1,200 municipalities will be impacted by the highly contested rule, which the Housing and Urban Development Department put into effect Wednesday.
The agency seeks to combat discrimination in affluent suburban areas, while also desegregating poor urban areas where it says too many minorities lack access to good schools and jobs.
“A ZIP code should never determine a child’s future,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said.
The massive 377-page regulation requires local authorities to take “meaningful actions” to diversify neighborhoods. Municipalities that don’t comply risk losing millions in federal grant money. Some could face federal housing-bias probes.
Critics say HUD’s far-reaching mandate is an intrusion on the affairs and responsibilities of local governments, and opens the door to Washington dictating zoning and land use decisions.
They argue the development of subsidized apartments and other affordable housing in low-density areas could increase crime and congestion and lower property values. It could also stretch school systems.
While HUD concedes that limiting such housing does not necessarily make communities racist, the agency asserts that it reduces the “fair housing choices” for minorities who can’t afford to live in those areas.
“While zoning and land use are generally local matters, when local zoning or land use practices violate the Fair Housing Act, they become a federal concern,” HUD warned in its rule.
In 2013, HUD expanded Fair Housing Act violations to include racially neutral policies that have a “disparate impact,” or disproportionate burden on minorities. The Supreme Court in a narrow ruling last month upheld the disparate impact doctrine.
HUD’s new rule, “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” requires municipalities “to perform an assessment of land use decisions and zoning to evaluate their possible impact on fair housing choice,” it said. “This assessment must be consistent with fair housing and civil rights requirements .”
“An example of disproportionate housing needs would be found when a significantly higher proportion of the jurisdiction’s black residents experience a severe cost burden when compared to the proportion of the jurisdiction’s white residents experiencing a severe cost burden,” HUD notes.
In a companion “Fair Housing Assessment Tool,” HUD counts “land use and zoning laws, such as minimum lot sizes, limits on multi-unit properties, height limits, or bedroom-number limits as well as requirements for special use permits (and) occupancy restrictions” among “factors contributing to segregated housing patterns.”
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