Removing Zip Code as a Quality of Life Factor

City Journal’s article concerning Westchester County’s (NY) election of a Republican county executive (news in and of itself) highlights one of the American left’s long-term goals: the complete levelling of people relative to location, so that you don’t have “good neighbourhoods” and “bad neighbourhoods” any more.

Although the right is usually diligent in documenting the radical agenda of the Obama Administration, this is one aspect that generally gets overlooked.  However, on a day-to-day level, it would have the most profound impact on daily of life of anything the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (zip code 20500) could accomplish.

The overturning in Westchester County is a result of a settlement the county reached with the federal government to require the construction of Section 8 housing in affluent towns.   At the time this was reached, HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims was noted as follows:

“We are going to say [that] areas have an obligation in greatest sense of word to provide choice,” Ron Sims, the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said in an interview Tuesday.

Mr. Sims, who served as the executive of Washington’s King County, which includes Seattle, before joining HUD, said that demographic data showed how ZIP codes had become “big predictors of illnesses, life expectancy, long-term job earnings of children as well as adults.”

Consequently, the department said it would do more to ensure that established surburban neighborhoods that accept HUD money to provide “opportunity of choice,” he said. “When you can predict the illnesses people can get by ZIP code, there’s something wrong. It’s time to remove ZIP codes as a factor in the quality of life in America.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, this idea would eliminate any income or housing quality distinction between different parts of town.  That means the following:

  1. It would eliminate the distinctions in culture that brought those who live in a more expensive part of town to where they’re at (or leaves those who are in the poorer part of town where they’re at, take your pick.)
  2. It would eliminate the incentive to work towards upward social mobility, since what you’d be looking at when you’re done would be the same as what you’re looking at now.

That, boys and girls, is profound.  That would put us closer to making the fifty square metre apartment the norm.  (I know people laughed when I posted this, but now the laugh’s mine.)  But that’s been a long-term goal of the American left since at least the 1960’s, and using Section 8 housing as leverage to get there is a pretty big weapon in their arsenal.

There are a couple of practical implications that should be noted:

  1. How is HUD going to come up with “market value rents” in really affluent places?  Take the case of the zip code I grew up in (Palm Beach, 33480.)  What kind of deficit spending are the feds prepared to do in a place where property that sells for under US$750,000 is at the bottom of the market?
  2. This kind of development has the most impact in places where the urban structure is “balkanised,” i.e., you have a centre city and many surrounding suburbs.  That’s the case in most of the U.S. except for the “Old Confederacy,” where annexation laws have favoured the expansion of the central city rather than the formation of a ring of suburbs.  For relatively large cities such as Charlotte or Nashville (or even Atlanta or Houston) that have taken Section 8 money, with the wider range of income levels within the municipality, they have more flexibility in locating the Section 8 housing than, say, a Palm Beach or a Birmingham, MI.

Although a complete levelling in income disparities by geography has been a goal (expressed or implied) of socialist states for a long time, it’s never been achieved, even in the old Soviet Union, with its special places for those high in the Communist Party.  But that won’t keep the American left from trying, and trying they are.

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