William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
Is the American dream racist?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development seems to think so. And boy, it must be licking its chops looking at the leafy towns of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
HUD launched the most radical initiative yet to come out of the Obama administration last week to little notice in the national press. But for those who have seen HUD in action in Westchester County over the past four years, it was entirely expected.
HUD is developing a national diversity data map that looks at every community in the country -- town by town, street by street -- seeking "exclusionary zoning" and what it calls impediments to "fair housing." It's searching for census blocks -- often no more than a street or two -- where the African-American population is 3 percent or less and the Latino population is 7 percent or less. Once it finds those, it wants to use financial leverage to change local zoning laws that prohibit large apartment complexes and other multifamily building types. In other words, it wants to force large apartment complexes into America's most expensive neighborhoods.
"This proposed rule represents a 21st century approach to fair housing, a step forward to ensuring that every American is able to choose to live in a community they feel proud of -- where they have a fair shot at reaching their full potential in life," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said last week.
Where most people see expensive neighborhoods, HUD sees racism. Its housing monitor in Westchester this week declared seven municipalities in violation of "exclusionary zoning" and it will now try to force Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a client of mine, to sue those municipalities to dissolve their centuries-old zoning laws. Westchester may be the fourth most diverse county in New York State -- it's tied with Manhattan -- but that doesn't matter to HUD. There are individual neighborhoods that don't meet HUD's prescribed racial cocktail.
Westchester is being targeted because it got in trouble with HUD under the previous county administration. It accepted federal housing funds, as almost all big communities do, without checking off all the boxes in the fine print that came with the money. Former County Executive Andy Spano, an unabashed liberal who built lots of affordable housing in his three terms in office, failed to include race when considering potential housing barriers. The Justice Department sued; Spano settled, and HUD began in Westchester what it is calling its "grand experiment."
HUD's vision now is to withhold federal funds of all kinds to municipalities across the country unless they "affirmatively further fair housing" -- that is, unless they radically rewrite their zoning laws. But what's unfair about housing in affluent communities? Is the fact that not everyone can afford prime property in the Hamptons, including moi, racist? Has someone told Jay Z?
It's preposterous in this day and age to suggest that African-Americans or Latinos would be prevented from buying homes anywhere they can afford them. And it's insulting to suggest that those families can't do well enough in life to end up in America's nicest communities.
But the social engineers at HUD see racial barriers everywhere, and it looks like they're willing to bulldoze towns in the name of justice. Look out, Long Island.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.