Urban Decline Through the Back Door

Huntsville just seems bound and determined these days to become Birmingham. That’s the only conclusion I can come to after reading the city’s draft 2010-2015 Fair Housing plan.

As a condition of receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money and other federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds, a city must every five years prepare Fair Housing plans which describe local impediments to fair housing and what the city plans to do to rectify those problems.

The Fair Housing Act was initially passed in 1968 and has been amended at various times over the years both by Congress and via presidential executive order. The law “prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and in housing-related lending activities on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status.” This is an important civil rights law and one that almost anyone can support. Note, however, that income is not a protected category.

But some activists want to change that. That is, they want to establish that a person has a legal right to live in a neighborhood he can’t afford to live in. Some states – although not Alabama — have already passed laws to this effect.

To liberals, however, niceties like actual laws are never an impediment to pursuing what they want. If they can’t make it a law, they just try to sneak it in the back door. And that’s what is going on in Huntsville right now.

The draft Fair Housing Plan is 90 pages long, but the actual fair housing portion could be contained in maybe four pages. The rest of it is concerned with “affordable housing” and “de-concentrating poverty.” It was prepared for Community Development Director Michelle Jordan by C. Jordan-Wilson & Associates, which is owned (at least in part) by Dr. Constance Wilson, Associate Professor of Community and Urban Planning at Alabama A&M. The cost to the city was reportedly $50,000.

From the very beginning, the report makes only the slightest pretense of being about fair housing, and instead jumps straight to its real goals. Under the “Summary of Impediments Found,” there are eighteen items, and maybe five of them legitimately relate to fair housing. The others range from the irrelevant (“Fair market rent levels limits [sic] the eligibility options of some areas outside the City core for rental properties in the Section 8 program.”) to the even more irrelevant (”Concentrated patterns of racial and ethnic minorities within the core of the City; twelve (12) tracts have populations with 70% or greater minority population.”).

Aside from race, the authors seem most obsessed with cars — how many people don’t own them, where those people live, and how this impacts their lives. They even include the oddball observation that, “Commuting to work is dominated by car, truck or van drivers, driving alone.” And…? What does this have to do with fair housing?

The authors also report stunningly obvious socio-economic facts as if they are great revelations, such as: “Approximately 50% of female households with no husband present and children under 5 years-old [sic] are living below poverty [sic — Poverty’s on the floor above them?].” Um, yes… that’s one of the reasons societies traditionally discourage having kids outside of marriage, and it’s one of the main reasons inner-city areas have so much poverty. This is news?

Again, it cannot be emphasized enough: None of this has a thing to do with the city’s legal requirements under the Fair Housing Act.

Even judged by its “affordable housing” focus, the plan is a bust. It claims throughout that impediments to fair housing in Huntsville include: “Zoning and land development policies that might limit opportunities for affordable housing developments in broader geographic areas of the city.” It’s not until the reader gets to page 35 that he finds this statement: “The review process of the Huntsville Zoning Ordinance did not uncover any excessive, exclusionary or discriminatory policies, rules or regulations that might constitute a barrier to housing affordability….” Oh, well never mind then. So if this isn’t an impediment, why is it on the list?

The authors let their ideological mask slip more than once, none more obvious than when they decry “Nimby [sic] Attitudes — resistance to the location of affordable housing (e.g., housing for minority families, homeless persons, persons with mental disabilities).” At no time during the arguments over the Huntsville Housing Authority imposing itself on middle-class neighborhoods was the debate about race. The authors simply impute racist motives based on their own biases.

Given all of that, the items in the action plan should surprise no one. Sure, there’s plenty of meaningless fluff (“Prepare a proclamation in observance of Fair Housing Month”) and pointless bureaucratic busywork (“Develop and sustain additional community dialogue on fair housing”, “Develop an education and outreach Fair Housing Campaign”), but the real meat is in these three items:

Implement the route extension plans of the City Shuttle [thus to better serve far-flung public housing and other “affordable housing.”]
Work with existing housing advocacy groups and providers to promote affordable housing plans.
Through down-payment assistance, offer affordable housing opportunities and affirmative marketing beyond the core of the City.
Word is the authors worked hand-in-tentacle with the HHA in writing this plan, and it shows. Combined with all the talk in the rest of the plan concerning the joys of spreading poverty to nicer neighborhoods, it is clear that Michelle Jordan wants the city to jump fully on the side of the HHA’s destructive agenda that will kneecap this city and send anybody who can leave fleeing for the exits.

Please keep in mind that this is not just some pointless report that can be shoved in a bottom drawer somewhere and forgotten. The city can be held liable by the federal government if it does not make a good faith effort to do what it says it will do in this plan.

At Thursday’s City Council work session, Dr. Wilson presented the draft plan and took questions from the Council. By far the most entertaining part came when Council President Mark Russell asked her point-blank why the “affordable housing” elements were in this document and if they are required by the Fair Housing Act. Twice she ducked, weaved, and equivocated, and twice Russell came right back and asked the question again, before Wilson finally admitted that affordable housing is not “technically” a requirement of fair housing law.

George Jones, the obnoxious pit bull from the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, was again on hand (following the fit he threw here last year) and again was belligerent and threatening everyone in sight.

But his threats shouldn’t scare anyone. Huntsville has to make a fundamental choice here: Do we choose to thrive, or do we choose to decline? If this plan or anything like it is adopted, it will just be one more nail in the coffin.

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