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Biden Executive Order on Housing: Replacing Old Sins with New ones

President Biden’s series of executive orders now extended to housing policy – and to a pledge to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to “fair housing”. Specifically, this could mean reversing Trump’s Obama-era rule known as “definitely promoting fair housing” – designed to introduce “affordable” (read “subsidized”) housing into zip codes in high-income suburbs. To justify a return to this controversial policy, President Biden has rehearsed a long line of federal housing policy sins. He’s right about many of them – but he’s wrong about his approach to fairness. More subsidized housing, in the tragic public housing tradition, will only stimulate division and do little to help minorities in their quest for upgrading. It is indisputable that, as President Biden stated in his Executive Order, ‚Äúduring the twentieth century, federal, state and local governments systematically implemented discriminatory housing policies that contributed to isolating neighborhoods and discouraging equal opportunities and the opportunity to build wealth for blacks, and for Hispanics, Pacific, Native American families, and other underserved societies. Most importantly, the Federal Housing Authority would not secure mortgages for blacks in white neighborhoods, and racial covenants – action restrictions against blacks (and Jews, by the way) – were the rule in the 1950s. Urban highways pass through low-income neighborhoods (albeit not exclusively), displacing thousands. Today, we are left with the Cross Bronx Expressway and Chrysler Expressway. However, this apology is eclectic. African Americans, in particular, have suffered from The tragedy of a favorite progressive program (still): public housing. The main history here is underappreciated. Black neighborhoods have been historically tarnished – Downtown Harlem, the Black Bottom in Detroit, Bronzeville in Chicago, Desoto-Ca rr in St. Louis – as a slum, even though it was home to a large number of residential property owners and hundreds of black-owned businesses. When they were cleared to make way for public housing, they were replaced by a towering inferno where ownership – the accumulation of assets – was by definition impossible. The social fabric of self-help, civil society and the rising movement is torn apart. Blacks have always been, and are, disproportionately represented in public housing and subsidized in any other way, and are often trapped in long-term dependency by policies that backfire: When their income rises, so does the rent. Compensating for this double history of outright and harmful progressive racism should not mean the emergence of a new generation of housing sins. But promoting equitable housing positively, if restored, is exactly that. Federal pressure – through the influence of local aid programs – to enforce the introduction of subsidized rental housing for low-income renters has been a guarantee of resistance by lower-middle-class residents, whites and blacks, who are justifiably concerned that families who struggle and save to reach their neighborhoods will pose problems. Concentrations of housing coupon tenants, dispersed by demolition of some public housing projects, have led to widespread dysfunction and poor maintenance – including apartment buildings in Warrenville Heights, Marcia Fudge’s hometown of Ohio, and incoming US Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary. Racial integration and equitable housing remain goals that America must strive for. But that means understanding how biology works. Americans, blacks and whites, choose to live in areas that share the social and economic characteristics of their neighbors. Some liberals may not like it – but these are their personal choices, too. When members of a minority group share the economic and educational backgrounds of new neighbors, the potential for intolerance is greatly reduced. This is why “fair housing” should mean nondiscrimination – not subsidized new developments. Instead, Biden doubles the example set by the Obama administration in Westchester County, which has had to spend $ 60 million to support 874 housing units – in a county where racial and ethnic minorities are already represented. This means that current black and Latino homeowners, who have bought their homes through struggle and savings, will have to see their county taxes used to support others to the tune of $ 68,000 per home. The “exclusionary” suburbs will not be opened to confrontation. There will be endless lawsuits. Instead, HUD, if it has any beneficial role, should try to use tools like zoning model (suggestions, not mandates) to persuade local planning boards to allow the market to build naturally affordable housing – small homes, including multiple small families. Families, on small plots. Historically, this is how the American working class was able to buy homes. A genuinely interested administration in correcting the housing policy mistakes of the past will not overlook the current problems of public and subsidized housing. Here’s a bold idea: Sell public housing projects on high-value real estate (see Brooklyn Waterfront) and offer monetary compensation to its residents. They have to be able to move where they want – or just put money aside. There is a lot about our housing past to be correct. Double the previous sins is not the way to start.

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