"It's time to remove zip codes as a factor in the quality of life in America." And with that snide remark, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), made clear the department's intention to force the construction of 750 low-income housing units in affluent, stable communities of Westchester County in New York State.
In spite of the fact that Westchester has long had its share of affluent black and Hispanic families, that's not quite the same as having a representation of "poorer" residents (as HUD puts it), apparently to guarantee racial as well as economic "diversity." After all, what's a community without a contingent of Section 8 tenants? It's a "racist" community, if we follow the logic of Mr. Sims and the Obama administration, that is vigorously pursuing this latest integration crusade.
In "Revolt in Westchester"(City Journal, 11/4/09), Walter Olson describes this recent move to compel towns to accept unwanted housing, and sees the recent election of Rob Astorino over long-time County Executive Andy Spano as the signs of a revolt by Westchester residents, who are determined to find a way out of a settlement that many believe was coerced via strong-armed government tactics.
Talk to my neighbors here in the Norwood section of the Bronx about quality of tenants. Now, you might think that the Bronx is the last place where anyone would care about such things as residents' conduct, but you would be mistaken. In spite of its reputation for crime and disorder, there have always been, in the borough, low-to-no-crime havens of steadfast, conscientious home-owners and apartment dwellers. Most of my neighbors are working class types, harboring what one might call middle class aspirations and values.
During the past decade, the neighborhood's landlords have been hard pressed to find more of such tenants to fill vacancies in their apartment buildings. In my building, for example, apartments have sat empty for months. Long-time residents of other buildings have reported the same situation, i.e., empty apartments.
But no longer. Against their better judgment, many landlords are succumbing to the government's generous rental payments for Section 8 tenants, or so-called homeless families. ("Families" in a very loose sense of the word, usually single women with children and a host of interchangeable boyfriends.) I need not detail the alterations to the neighborhood's environment, as residents attempt to adjust to the behavior patterns of these new tenants with "issues." You can guess the nature of the "issues" they bring with them. Suffice it to say, the recent upswing in, shall we call it, social discord, is taking its toll on what is normally a harmonious and tolerant community, where residents make a virtue of being seen and heard only when appropriate.
I am told that for taking in a Section 8 tenant, landlords can receive at much as $200 higher for monthly rents from the government than they might get from regular, working tenants. One neighbor, writing to our local weekly newspaper, expresses the fear that our community might soon turn into a "subsidized, public assistance oasis."
There is no reason not to believe that this could be the fate of Westchester. Although the county certainly starts from a much higher economic base than our modest area in the Bronx, as residents of homes and co-ops flee the coming social turmoil, the slide could be swift. HUD has announced its plans to bring its low-income housing program into other affluent neighborhoods around the country. Could there be a plot afoot to eliminate all middle and upper class venues in an attempt to make every nook and cranny "look like America?"
To fabricate neighborhoods that are undifferentiated by social and economic factors (which zip codes symbolize), Walter Olson claims "would require extreme, indeed utopian, ventures in social engineering." As they have done in other areas, the government's social engineers and their lawyers can work to legally abridge a locality's home rule and change zoning laws.
In Westchester, if towns would try to protect themselves, by offering these new low-income homes and units to their own local townspeople, such as teachers, policemen and elderly residents, the HUD settlement would prevent such a move. The settlement requires the county to "market the homes aggressively," not to Westchester residents, but specifically to "black and Hispanic residents of the New York City area." It's called Government Gotcha!
Olson surmises that Westchester residents voted for Astorino (who, throughout the campaign was never expected to beat the incumbent Spano), as a way of expressing their concerns over this housing issue. Astorino had called for a "slowdown," so that the county could examine further options in relation to the settlement.
Spano might have overplayed his hand by insinuating that critics of the housing plan were "racists." Olson says that Westchester residents, who are liberals from way back and voted for Obama by a comfortable margin, may very well have been offended by Spano's aspersion. "Westchesterites don't like being talked to that way."
Over the last decade, about 1,700 units of "affordable housing" has been built throughout Westchester county. But now, in what a local newspaper calls "a historic shift of philosophy," the federal government demands that the county develop housing in communities "with little or no minority population." It turns out that building for the poor was not good enough. Building now has to be for the race specific poor. It goes without saying that poor whites need not apply.
To quote my neighbor again, "Bad tenants make bad neighborhoods." Here's wishing better luck to Westchester than our little vicinity is presently experiencing.