A recent and quite prescient essay by Ethan Blevins with the Pacific Legal Foundation says the federal government wants to micromanage the nation’s housing. It was published over at the Hill, a mainstream media outlet focused on the U.S. government and can be read in its entirety by clicking here.
Here are some excerpts:
In the early 2000s, the city of St. Paul, Minn., cracked down on landlords who ignored rat problems, bad sanitation, poor heating, and so on. But instead of shaping up, the landlords sued the city for violating the federal Fair Housing Act. They argued that St. Paul’s insistence upon habitable homes hurt minorities by forcing the landlords to raise the rent. A federal court of appeals let the lawsuit go forward — holding that killing rats and fixing toilets could indeed violate the law if it somehow unintentionally displaced minorities.
When a similar case reached the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito quipped, “Something has gone badly awry when a city can’t even make slumlords kill rats without fear of a lawsuit.” Now the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — the federal agency that enforces the Fair Housing Act — has proposed policies that will make it even harder for cities to kill rats or do much else without the federal government’s blessing.
Urban development involves complex, competing priorities. For good reason, our federal structure leaves this labyrinth to states and local governments to manage, not distant federal bureaucrats.
Disparate impact liability and stringent conditions on federal funding place tremendous power in the hands of a federal agency to manage housing across the nation. When almost any local housing or land-use policy could run afoul of fair housing laws, federal regulators have a bullwhip to cow local governments into adopting the federal government’s policy preferences. Housing is a perpetual challenge. But the answer is not to concentrate power in a partisan federal agency.