Sen. Susan Collins has filed an AFFH amendment that instead of defunding the program, as Sen. Mike Lee’s amendment would do, provides that the Department of Housing and Urban Development cannot “direct a grantee to undertake specific changes to existing zoning laws as part of carrying out” enforcement of AFFH.
The amendment is designed to give Senators a means of pretending to defend localities and municipalities against AFFH, without actually defending it. Thus, as Stanley Kurtz says, any Senator who votes for Collins’ AFFH amendment instead of Lee’s AFFH defund is doing nothing other than pulling the wool over his or her constituents’ eyes.
Why? Because federal law already forbids HUD from mandating the spending priorities of state and local governments or forcing grant recipients to forgo their duly adopted policies or laws, including zoning laws. AFFH gets around this prohibition by setting things up so that a locality can’t get any federal grant money unless it “voluntarily” promises to change its zoning laws and change its housing policies in exactly the way HUD wants.
Senator Collins’ amendment does nothing to defeat this approach. Yes, it prohibits HUD saying to a county: “We order you to abolish your zoning laws and build high-density low-income housing” — something it already can’t say and isn’t saying. But no, it doesn’t prohibit HUD from saying: “We order you to conduct an analysis of your housing needs and offer a plan of action that we deem acceptable, and only then will you get your HUD grant.” It is this statement that constitutes the coercive overreaching essence AFFH.
I have already urged readers to contact their Senators to express support for Mike Lee’s amendment. While you are at it, please let them know you won’t be fooled by Susan Collins’ gambit.