Dr. Carson’s misguided alternative to Obama’s AFFH rule

For the most part, Ben Carson has maintained a low profile as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Early on in the Trump administration, he announced that HUD will “reinterpret” the ultra-instrusive Obama housing rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH).

AFFH is an abomination. It enables HUD to order more than 1,200 cities and counties that accepted any part of annual community development block grants to rezone neighborhoods along income and racial criteria. It thus allows unaccountable federal bureaucrats to dictate who lives where, in order to create racially and economically balanced neighborhoods.

In January of this year, HUD announced that it is suspending the obligation of most local governments to comply with AFFH until 2020 or, in many cases, 2025. Dr. Carson said his department intends to “craft a new, fairer rule that creates choices for quality housing across all communities.”

Now, reportedly, Carson is finally ready to recast AFFH. Apparently, his plan is to use federal aid to encourage (coerce?) local governments to relax land-use regulations that limit housing supply and, by limiting it, render housing unaffordable for many low-and-middle-income households.

Carson’s idea has received favorable reviews, including one from the estimable Reihan Salam. He writes:

What happens when you limit supply in the face of increased demand? Housing values soar, which is of course a very good thing for incumbent property owners. On one level, you could say that it’s not the federal government’s business if California homeowners vote for stringent land-use regulations that choke off increases in housing supply. Sure, they’re locking poor people out of the region and low-income Californians are four times as likely as other Americans to live in crowded conditions. But that’s their problem, right?

Not exactly. Because low-income Californians have to spend such a high share of their incomes on housing, they’re more likely than low-income people elsewhere to be eligible for federal rental subsidies, which are paid for by taxpayers across the country. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that the entry limits imposed by productive regions are damaging America’s growth prospects.

I asked Stanley Kurtz, my go-to guy on matters relating to federal housing policy, for his thoughts. Stanley doesn’t share Salam’s enthusiasm at all. He responded:

We’ve seen little detail on this, so comments at this point must be provisional. That said, this looks very disturbing.

I worry that developers are trying to save AFFH. There have definitely been cases in which real estate interests have allied with the left’s plans because it makes for more building projects. The regionalists want high-density low-income developments built in suburbs currently zoned for single family homes. Developers are only too happy to oblige.

But using the federal government to pressure suburbs to change their zoning practices is an offense against local control. Even a restricted version of AFFH legitimates the principle that local zoning decisions are the federal government’s business. That would allow the next Democratic president to claim that the GOP has already ratified the principle of federal interference in local zoning decisions when it brings back the full Obama-version of AFFH.

Again, we need more detail. But my initial reaction is that this is a disaster for the principle of local control.

I agree. Dr. Carson should take the federal government out of the business of coercing localities to change their zoning and land use practices except when these practices are shown to discriminate intentionally against minorities.

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