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The Chappaqua Case: The Feds Muscle In on Local Zoning Laws

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HUD has rewritten the definition of “fair housing.”

Howard Husock
National Review

Here’s a question for Hillary Clinton: Should a U.S. attorney threaten a county with more than $1 million in fines if it refuses to pressure local officials to approve a housing development?

The issue is not at all hypothetical. It’s front and center right now in Westchester County, N.Y. – and the housing development in question would be built in Chappaqua, the hamlet where Hillary and Bill Clinton live. And it’s of much more than local interest. The action threatened against Westchester officials may presage a similar approach by HUD against the 1,200-plus governments across the country that accept federal community-development funds. Indeed, HUD has announced that it plans to adopt its new interpretation of “fair housing” nationwide…

But it’s not as if Westchester County officials have been standing in the schoolhouse door, as it were, like latter-day George Wallaces. The county has already set in motion construction or financing for some 454 affordable-housing units — and it seemed to be on target to meet an interim goal of 450 units by the end of last year.

But here’s the rub. Twenty-eight of those units are in a proposed development near the commuter rail station in the Clintons’ hamlet of Chappaqua — which (in the complex system of local governance used in New York State) is part of the Town of New Castle (also home to New York governor and former HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo). The Chappaqua Station project has already been promised funding by Westchester County — but, under pressure from Chappaqua residents, New Castle has not approved the required zoning variances. Ironically, there appears to be little overt local opposition to the idea of a subsidized housing project in a town where median income is $180,000 a year. Instead, what many local residents appear to be concerned about is the quality of the new housing from the point of view of its intended residents. That is, they fear that the site would be just a new version of the other side of the tracks — a less than desirable place to live to which the poor are shunted. In other words, opposition comes in part from liberals and involves the very local question of the best location for the new development.

None of that cuts any ice with HUD — or with the Justice Department, acting on HUD’s concerns…

…HUD has a novel idea about fair housing and is using the courts and a federal grant to force Westchester County to accept and, indeed, promote it. This is a long way from the American federalist tradition, in which local residents, as Woodrow Wilson put it, “govern themselves.”…

Read the entire article at National Review.

Related: Obama Administration Mandates Diversity In Suburbs

Under a sweeping new federal housing mandate, the Obama administration threatens to withhold funding for cities and counties that fail to remove local zoning laws and other potentially “discriminatory barriers” that restrict low-income housing in wealthy neighborhoods.

More than 1,200 municipalities will be impacted by the highly contested rule, which the Housing and Urban Development Department put into effect Wednesday.

The agency seeks to combat discrimination in affluent suburban areas, while also desegregating poor urban areas where it says too many minorities lack access to good schools and jobs…


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