Big Government, Economy, Issues

Senate showdown on federal takeover of neighborhoods

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The Senate is voting on whether to rein in President Obama’s outlandish regulation that uses $3 billion community development block grant money to coerce 1,200 recipient cities and counties nationwide to submit local zoning plans to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to redress imagined discrimination based upon neighborhoods’ racial and income make-up.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has an amendment that would actually prohibit this implementation of the Affirmative Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, specifically stopping HUD from attaching zoning changes as a condition for receiving funding, and it deserves every senator’s support.house

According to the Federal Register, AFFH directs municipalities “to examine relevant factors, such as zoning and other land-use practices that are likely contributors to fair housing concerns, and take appropriate actions in response” as a condition for receipt of the block grants. It’s right there in the regulation.

On the other hand, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) offers an amendment which merely reiterates current law that the federal government cannot compel the local zoning changes, stating no funds can be used “to direct a grantee to undertake specific changes to existing zoning laws.”

As noted by the National Review’s Stanley Kurtz, “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 up a situation in which 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.”

Kurtz emphasizes the point: “This trick allows HUD to avoid formally ‘directing’ localities to do anything at all in order to get their HUD grants. But HUD gives localities plenty of informal ‘guidance’ that makes it perfectly clear what they actually have to do to get their federal grants.”

Therefore, even with the Collins amendment, AFFH will still require municipalities to “examine relevant factors, such as zoning and other land-use practices that are likely contributors to fair housing concerns, and take appropriate actions in response” as a condition for receipt of the block grants.

This is an attempt by the Senate to pretend to have acted to stop the federalization of local zoning decisions without actually doing so. The Lee amendment will remove the local zoning strings attached to the funding, plain and simple. The Collins amendment will not.

It is telling that President Obama is threatening a veto of an appropriations bill that has “ideological” content, when the President himself is exercising the power of the purse to compel his ideological vision on our nation’s cities, towns and counties through implementation of AFFH.

The Collins amendment, ironically, will enable and advance this ideological agenda — while offering constituents false comfort that it has been abated when it has not. Only the Lee amendment can stop this HUD driven transformation of our neighborhoods.

The House has already passed the Lee language twice with vocal support from across the Conference ranging from Representatives Paul Gosar to Peter King.  Americans for Limited Government urges every senator to vote yes on the Lee amendment to the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill — and stop the federalization of local zoning policies once and for all.

This is a guest post by Rick Manning President of Americans for Limited Government.

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