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Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its final rule on “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” a regulation intended in part to advance HUD’s goal of making sure that government agencies that receive public funds take “meaningful actions” to eliminate “historic patterns of segregation, achieve truly balanced and integrated living patterns, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.” As I note in my new column for Defining Ideas, the result is a mess:
The tedious Final Rule, which has been hailed as “historic and overdue,” is an intellectual shipwreck. Its empty and vacuous commands are incapable of rational implementation. Yet notwithstanding HUD’s pious denials, the department is sure to continue its history of contentious litigation brought to chastise and correct local governments whose actions have not met its standard. One inherent difficulty in both the previous and current versions of the Final Rule is that its objectives are often in deep conflict with one anther.
HUD gives backhanded recognition to this point when it notes: “The Fair Housing Act does not prohibit individuals from choosing where they wish to live, but it does prohibit policies and actions by covered entities and individuals that deny choice or access to housing or opportunity through the segregation of persons protected by the Fair Housing Act.” But it does not grasp the magnitude of this concession. It turns out, of course, that most individuals do not wish to live in communities that meet HUD’s sterile definitions of “truly balanced and integrated communities.” They often prefer to live with individuals with whom they share common values in neighborhoods that offer the social support and companionship that they so clearly want.
It is not that everyone wants to live in racially homogenous communities. Quite the opposite. Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor offer substantial evidence that racial separation has declined over the past 50 years, largely if not wholly apart from HUD’s affirmative action interventions. HUD offers no evidence of the potency of its affirmative action program in its Final Rule. But so long as some preferences for living with like individuals persist, there is little doubt that people will tend to cluster in communities with people of the same race, ethnicity or economic class, which tends to facilitate the kinds of interactions that they want. It is still important to recall Thomas Schelling’s seminal 1969 study, “Models of Segregation,” which shows how extensive racial separation can take place even when most people of both racial groups prefer to live in neighborhoods which are integrated, but in which they prefer to constitute a majority.
HUD is willfully blind to these complications. No matter how many terminological changes HUD makes in its report, it does not deal candidly with the serious risk that voluntary choices by ordinary individuals will undo the scripted program that HUD wants to impose on neighborhoods and communities. Indeed, even if by some magic stroke, the construction of new projects could result in “truly balanced and integrated living patterns” at time one, it is highly unlikely that those patterns will persist as individual choices will continue to undermine HUD’s desired end-state regimes.
HUD is unable to explain how the huge conditions attached to its grants will build a single unit of new housing for anyone anywhere. What is needed is a complete reorientation in approach that starts from the proposition that it is far easier and more sensible to remove barriers to entry than it is to subsidize forced entry by judicial decree once those local barriers are allowed to remain in place.
You can read the argument in full here.