Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe penned an op-ed titled “If you don’t rent to criminals, are you a racist?” It points out yet another grotesque example of governmental overreach that not only infringes on rental property owners’ rights, but also will ultimately lead to negative consequences for a broad spectrum of renters.
Last week the Obama administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development warned/threatened landlords about refusing to rent to individuals with criminal records. They \ justified this overreach by stretching the intent of The Fair Housing Act that makes it illegal to discriminate on the sale or renting of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. HUD’s guidance states: “Because of widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the US criminal justice system criminal history-based restrictions on access to housing are likely disproportionately to burden African Americans and Hispanics. . . . [T]herefore such a practice would violate the Fair Housing Act.”
This is an incredible stretch of executive branch authority and another example of a laws reasonable intent being distorted by unelected bureaucrats. It was never intended that The Fair Housing Act would protect convicted criminals. Using HUD’s logic there are a myriad of federal agencies from the CIA to the Secret Service whose actions are racist. If there is a problem with the criminal justice system, then it is the Congress’s and the Justice Department’s responsibility to fix the defects.
As Jacoby points out, people who rent housing not only desire reasonable rental fees, but also want clean and safe environments. These renters’ neighbors are chosen by landlords who they hope will choose wisely. In a free market a landlord is most likely to achieve profits by offering desirable living spaces. While property upkeep is an important part of this formula, so are the clientele who become renters and renters’ neighbors. Should this include unrepentant individuals with criminal records, with the record showing a high recidivism rate for criminals, as the song goes, “there goes the neighborhood”.
In the short run HUD’s actions might assist some with criminal records having greater access to housing. In the longer run, however, a broad spectrum of renters will be hurt as landlords not only relax standards as to who they will rent to, but also likely have less concern for property upkeep. The result will be increased blight in the inner cities, adding to the mess created in most large cities by governmental overreach and social engineering.
While HUD’s action is ill-conceived, there may be a more insidious motivation to it. Grand governmental interventions often modify the discussion allowing deflection of the real issues facing America’s inner cities. This includes the disintegrating education systems, increased unemployment rates especially among minorities, growing crime, and civil dissatisfaction that have been increasing in recent decades. If you are a Progressive, you are likely to blame those with more conservative views, i.e. Republicans. However, most large American cities have been run by liberal Democrats for decades. It is therefore more likely that Progressive social engineering is at the heart of the failings. Forcing landlords to rent to those with criminal records will not positively impact one of these root causes.