Finley: Obama’s next target: The suburbs

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The president who pledged to transform America has picked his next target in the country’s makeover: the suburbs.

Obama the Utopian hopes to use both the federal Treasury and the federal club to coax Americans into neighborhoods planned by bureaucrats to perfectly reflect the nation’s diversity.

No more rich town, poor town. All towns will be places where everyone lives on the right side of the tracks in blissful harmony without any social barriers to separate them.

That’s the vision of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule announced earlier this month by HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

It is a masterwork of social engineering that will allow the federal government to reshape nearly every neighborhood in the country to assure it has the correct income, racial and ethnic balances.

On paper, it appears fairly innocuous. It authorizes HUD to send local zoning boards reams of data about racial and economic disparity in their communities to help them “proactively” overcome “historic patterns of segregation...and foster inclusive communities for all.”

Communities will get feedback on their schools, transportation systems and racial and socioeconomic make-up to help them determine whether they are fully welcoming to poor people and other classes protected by the Fair Housing Act.

Once the data is compiled and analyzed, the expectation is that communities will take positive action to improve their numbers. And if they don’t? They’ll lose federal housing dollars.

Or worse — they’ll face a lawsuit from a federal government emboldened by the recent Supreme Court ruling on disparate impact, which makes it OK for prosecutors to determine discrimination simply by looking at statistics.

Suburban communities will be coerced to urbanize by plopping “affordable” (read: low income) housing in middle and upper income neighborhoods, and to demand that all residential developments, including luxury projects, contain a percentage of low-rent units.

The intent here is to make every neighborhood “look like America,” the popular buzz phrase for arranging society by racial percentages.

More likely, the rule will make every neighborhood look like Detroit.

The Motor City should have settled the question of whether forced integration works. Its abandonment was accelerated by court-ordered school busing and government efforts to reorder neighborhoods.

Housing is one of the more difficult markets to manipulate for social outcomes. Homeowners always have the option of packing up and moving on when the nature of their communities no longer meets their needs. They won’t be trapped by government mandates in communities where they don’t feel comfortable.

It’s a nice thought that there can be suburbs where $1 million estates sit right next to $800 a month apartments, and everybody gets along just fine. The reality is that efforts to coerce economic diversity in housing almost always end up destroying neighborhoods.