Limbaugh Lies About Anti-Segregation Housing Policy Initiated By George Romney

Rush Limbaugh charged that a new rule proposed by the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) aimed at promoting fair housing practices was “social engineering” and an attempt on the part of the federal government to “force” people to live in certain neighborhoods.

On the September 12 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh became the latest right-wing media figure to parrot a repeatedly debunked conservative argument about HUD and its programs:

In the 1970s, schools were ordered to bus children into neighborhoods far away in order to racial balance in the schools. ... [W]hen forced busing erupted, there was outrage all over the country, including liberal Boston. But the social architects of the left didn't listen, and they kept at it ... 'cause they were forcing people to do what people weren't doing of their own volition. People were choosing neighborhoods where they wanted to live, and leftists didn't like the choices they were making. So they basically used the power of the government to force them [to move].


Okay, let's fast forward to today. Social engineering is on the verge of being imposed on entire neighborhoods, adults and children alike. ... What this is, is central planners imposing their will on where you live, not just where your kids go to school--and it's all being done, of course, for our own good.

Limbaugh cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Rob Astorino, the Republican Westchester County executive, as proof that HUD “wants the power to dismantle local zoning” ordinances in order to impose diversity in local communities. Limbaugh goes on to claim that "[a]ll of this is Obama and the Democrats. They run these agencies. They look at zoning as disguised discrimination." Any effort to balance out segregated housing patterns, according to Limbaugh, is “part of [an] ongoing effort to achieve utopia” by “the elites.”

What Limbaugh fails to note is that HUD's efforts to integrate racially homogenous neighborhoods is not new, nor was it invented by President Obama or anyone in his administration. It was actually Republican George Romney (father of Mitt), in his role as Richard Nixon's HUD Secretary, who began this effort with the "Open Communities" program in 1968. The program would have given federal grants only to those local governments that provided subsidized housing for poor minorities, in an effort to promote equal opportunities in housing and education.

The explicit goal of Romney's program, as he outlined in his book The Concerns of a Citizen, was to alleviate the “economic and social distance [that] is increased by racial distance.” Far from being “social engineering” or a way to force interracial interaction, Romney's program was rooted in federal law. The Fair Housing Act actually requires HUD to "administer their programs and activities relating to housing and urban development ... in a manner affirmatively to further" fair housing. Romney believed the best way to do this was to require states and municipalities to address obstacles to fair housing on the local level.

But that hasn't stopped Limbaugh and other conservative commentators from baselessly accusing HUD of partisan overreaching.

Limbaugh's assertion that HUD plans to take control over local zoning boards in an attempt to “force” integration is demonstrably false. The new rule proposed by HUD asks only for program participants to evaluate whether local laws or policies “limit fair housing choice” and to “examine relevant factors, such as zoning and other land use practices that are likely contributors to fair housing concerns, and take appropriate actions in response.”

The conservative mischaracterization of HUD policy is particularly damaging given that housing patterns remain highly segregated. The fact that public schools are more racially segregated now than they were 40 years ago--when states still had segregation laws on the books--is due in large part to the persistence of non-diverse neighborhoods. HUD's attempt to remedy such inequalities is not a means to “engineer” a social “utopia,” as Limbaugh suggests, but rather to ensure equal opportunities for historically marginalized groups by encouraging quality housing and schools. Studies have shown that minority students in schools that have been desegregated have higher test scores and greater career successes later in life.

Apparently Limbaugh would rather neighborhoods and schools become even more racially isolated than they already are--an extreme position that not even Mitt Romney's dad agreed with.