Progressivism Unbound at HUD

It was 1993. I lived in an all-white, middle-class neighborhood, mostly Italian and Irish with some Albanian-Americans, in Staten Island, New York. I interviewed 22 people in order to rent my two-family home where I lived in the bottom apartment. Applicant Number 23, an Afro-American male greeted me at the door. He said his name was Curtis Black and he was a Wall Street broker. He was wearing a $2,000, blue pinstripe Brooks Brother suit. After the interview I told him I would call him if he was selected.

Two weeks later, he rang my doorbell. He asked if I had rented the apartment. I replied in the affirmative.

“Sir, I am Curtis Black with the NAACP. You have violated the fair housing law by refusing to rent to a man of color.”

“Why don’t you go upstairs and interview the person I rented it to,” I said.

I gleefully watched from the bottom of the stairs as he was met by a male even darker then him. Nothing was said as Mr. Black darted down the stairs and abruptly turned and fled.

I had rented to a man and wife from Calcutta, India. He was an engineer and the wife was a doctor. I never heard from Mr. Black from the NAACP again.

Today, eerily reminiscent of the progressive muckrakers, we have Shaun Donovan on the national stage. Fresh off his success as New York City Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Mr. Donovan is now President Obama’s HUD Secretary. In contrast to the ACORN movement, Donovan realizes that not everyone deserves to own a home. His goal is to increase multi-family housing for minorities -- not only to provide them with housing, but to integrate them into predominantly white neighborhoods. A social engineering experiment is underway to radically transform the ability of municipalities to enforce zoning ordinances while impacting the rights of property owners to control property as they see fit.

Enter Stage Left, Shaun Donovan

Shaun Donovan is Harvard educated, with an undergraduate degree in Engineering and graduate degrees both in Architecture and Public Administration. He graduated from the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Founded in 1919 by progressive educator Helen Parkhurst. The school’s progressive roots under the Dalton Plan are evident today in the motto, “Go forth unafraid”. Trendy, academically rigorous, elitist, expensive (over $30,000 per year) graduates attend the most prestigious colleges.

Donovan is from and still resides in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The area off Atlantic Avenue now home to artists, actors, and professionals, etc. was gentrified in the 1970s, when it was called South Brooklyn. 

Mr. Donovan’s progressive activist vision was shaped at the Dalton School. By many accounts, Donovan did a laudable job at HPD building affordable housing in increasingly gentrified neighborhoods while dealing with problems of preventing public housing of becoming ghettoized like the forerunner Model Cities and knitting a neighborhood development concept whereby real estate, education, and transportation complement each other. Donovan, an advocate of multi-family housing, secured funding to revitalize Brooklyn’s East New York Starrett City multi-family housing complex. In his own words, it is the intervention of local government, private sector, and non-profits working together that rebuilt the South Bronx.

Mr. Donovan goes to Washington

Now HUD Secretary, Donavan made some caustic statements at a recent NAACP convention: “White-based discrimination forces blacks to live in dangerous neighborhoods and attend bad schools.”

He did not explain how black neighborhoods got so bad. We should not bring up the fact that during LBJ’s Great Society millions were spent to revitalize black inner-city neighborhoods like Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem among others across the country.  Those housing projects were  destroyed by their own residents.

“I’m talking about good schools, safe streets, jobs, grocery stores, healthcare and a host of other important factors.  To help families gain this access -- HUD is working to strengthen our stewardship of federal dollars to maximize the impact they have on communities in advancing fair housing goals.”

Secretary Donovan unveiled his plan to, “affirmatively further fair housing.” He stated that HUD’s investigations resulted in $65 million worth of compensation to 25,000 victims, many of whom did not know they were discriminated against. A new phrase, “allegedly subjected to housing discrimination,” was created.

In this brave new world of emboldened progressivism, all you have to do is allege discrimination against a white landlord and HUD, using your tax money, steps in and investigates. No objective evidence or facts are needed. 

Progressives believe that minorities are being denied access to the American Dream and the only way to get there is to move into white neighborhoods. Everything that comes with the American Dream, good neighborhoods complete with vibrant businesses, safe communities, and good schools -- these “ladders of opportunity” are missing in minority communities.

What does this all mean?

This goes contrary to his work as HPD Commissioner where he revitalized inner-city minority communities. Why the push to move into traditionally white communities? It’s about power, not what’s best for minorities.   

President Obama and Shaun Donovan have an ambitious plan to integrate Afro-Americans and other minorities into traditionally white-middle and upper-class communities. HUD is forcing Westchester, N.Y. and affluent areas in Los Angeles and across the country to integrate.

In Westchester County, County Executive Rob Astorino implemented HUD’s consent decree to build 750 units of affordable housing in mostly white neighborhoods within 7 years or face fines. Two years later, with 206 units already built, HUD stated that the county has failed to show how its plan will “affirmatively further fair housing.” 

No one seems to know what that means. HUD now wants half of the 750 units to have three bedrooms, which would drive up costs in a county with some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

HUD calls it de facto segregation. Not enough blacks and Hispanics live on every block and neighborhood within the county. HUD Assistant Secretary John Trasvina said in July that a tenant’s source of income is “often used as a proxy for race or national origin” in denying housing.

Their second requirement would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants who use Section 8 government subsidies to help pay their rent. Rob Astorino had vetoed such a bill. Donovan’s administration and its allies are taking the position that “discrimination” against Section 8 tenants, whether in the form of extra scrutiny of their applications, turning them away as applicants, or anything else, should be illegal.

Donovan’s HUD is now holding back in excess of $7 million because Westchester didn’t do enough to “foster fair housing”.

Extra scrutiny of applicants seems draconian by HUD standards. Why should the landlord have any say on whom he rents to? It does not matter that a high preponderance of Section 8 tenants trash apartments and many Social Security disability applicants are unsavory types with drug, alcohol, and criminal backgrounds. In the end this is not about the landlord. He will in many instances have to renovate destroyed apartments and the legal system will turn a blind eye as he seeks compensation for damages or lost rent.

Go Forth Unafraid

Rob Astorino asserts that Westchester was already the fourth most diverse city in the country tied, with the boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens.

In Westchester and across the country it is free-market economic forces -- income, not discrimination -- that dictate where people live. People of all nationalities, minorities from around the world, live in Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side, Westchester, and so on.

Donovan’s activist HUD is following the edict of the Dalton School, “Go Forth Unafraid,” a relic of the progressive reformers of Teddy Roosevelt’s time who blamed all the ills of society and sought to publicly expose corruption in politics and in business. Even Roosevelt warned about possible pitfalls of keeping one's attention ever trained downward, "on the muck," and warned that the attack was of use only if it is absolutely truthful.

In the end, this campaign is not about truth or what is best for minorities either. It is about power and control dictated from the hands of progressives in Washington, D.C. It is a power grab and an elaborate social engineering plan that circumvents individual responsibility and subverts our freedom to control our property as we see fit.

William F. Dement, M.S. Management N.Y.U, M.A Education Wagner College, is a retired Lieutenant Narcotics Commander, N.Y.P.D. and a former teacher.

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