February 4, 2005
Feds nail Berkeley on race discriminationBy Thomas Lifson
The United States government has caught the City of Berkeley, California in what appears to be a pattern of flagrant racial discrimination in handing out 'free money' to certain lucky residents.
Although no formal finding has been issued, a routine fair—housing compliance review conducted in July by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has found that Berkeley's public housing program unfairly favors African—Americans. The situation is bad enough that the Feds are urging the city to recruit other groups, including students at the University of California, to correct the extreme imbalance. Unless massive new money comes into the system, this would mean throwing many people out of existing housing, a severe remedy, indeed.
Berkeley's public housing program consists mostly of handing out rent vouchers, under the Section 8 program of HUD. These rent vouchers constitute a monthly gift of tax money (most of it from the United States Government) to recipients, supplying funds to pay some or all of the rent that the fortunate few use to pay for their living quarters. The rest of us may have to live in the sort of housing we can afford. Section 8 winners can live beyond their means. Lucky are the few.
It is all rather like the historical practice of pashas and potentates in various Oriental Despotisms. Faced with a mass of starving miserable subjects, they would 'grant a boon' to a few, securing their personal loyalty, while demonstrating their splendor and benevolence to all. Like Berkeley, many pashas found that it paid to concentrate their boons on certain ethnic groups among their subjects, so as to create a solid bond of loyalty among them, and rendering them suitable for use as palace praetorians, tax collectors, police, and officials.
In more contemporary terms, this program sounds suspiciously similar to a lottery, where many people pay in, and a few collect rich rewards. But this is a less appropriate metaphor. In order to win a lottery, you have to actually lay out your own money. And everyone who does forward cash to the lottery has a chance of winning, proportional to the number of tickets purchased.
In the Section 8 lottery, by contrast, the more money you send in, the less likely you are to win. In fact, if you are prosperous and pay a lot taxes, you are not supposed to qualify. If you have arranged your life so as to generate no taxable income, then you don't have to send in any money to win. In fact, your demonstrable 'poverty' will qualify you for winning big. Every month.
So how 'imbalanced' is Berkeley's granting of boons?
According to the San Francisco Chronicle,
15.7 percent of Berkeley's low—income population was African American, 74.2 percent of the people getting Section 8 rent vouchers and 87 percent of tenants in city—owned rental units were African American.
So 84% of Berkeley's poor people have to make do with one quarter of the spoils of the voucher lottery, while the remaining 15.7% divide up three quarters of the loot. For the few actual housing units owned by the city, it is even worse. The 84% majority just get 13% of those, while the 15.7% get 87%.
These are the kinds of racial disparities which normally make a 'civil rights lawyer' salivate. But of course, when the beneficiaries of discrimination are black, the ordinary rules don't seem to apply. On the other hand, while nobody may care about the white victims, there are also numerous Hispanic, Asian, and even some Native American poor, also forced to scamper for the crumbs.
The underlying problem is that these substantial financial rewards of the housing program are distributed rather arbitrarily, with local officials able to pick and choose who among their citizenry is to be rewarded with thousands of dollars a year, in what amounts to cash. That is the sort of circumstance which economists call a 'moral hazard' — a temptation to misbehavior.
Berkeley is an example of a city where a political machine, left wing in politics, and disproportionately black by race, pretty much runs things as it pleases. The availability of municipal grant money, undemanding jobs, and other goodies from the city treasury is one reason why so many "activists" are able to survive and be avilable for political demonstrations at a moment's notice.
Further examination of the housing program in Berkeley is warranted, by a federal grand jury. Questions which need to be asked include the personal, sexual, political, familial, and other relationships between recipients of these boons and members of the Berkeley political establishment.
We already know that misbehavior has taken place. The open question is the severity.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.