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'Fair' housing or 'social engineering'? HUD proposal stirs controversy.

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In some ways, the tack is nothing new. In a succession of housing laws since the early 20th century, Congress has given HUD broad power to shape how and where Americans live, in large party by how it administers so-called Section 8 housing benefits to low-income Americans. But critics say that it's one thing for the federal government to root out existing housing discrimination, and quite another to pressure cities and counties to create, at the onset, communities or neighborhoods that are more inclusive and diverse.

At the root of the issue is poverty, and specifically where poor people live. A chief common denominator of poverty is socioeconomic segregation, and HUD officials say the proposed rule will allow it and local governments to address such segregation more deeply and seriously.

"Unfortunately, in too many of our hardest-hit communities, no matter how hard a child or her parents work, the life chances of that child, even her lifespan, is determined by the ZIP Code she grows up in. This is simply wrong,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said last month.

The proposed rule comes as the US Supreme Court is set to hear next term a Fair Housing Act case out of New Jersey that could broaden HUD’s authority to demand that local housing policies not have a disproportionately negative impact on poorer communities.

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