Senator Allen's National Heritage Area Threatens to Disproportionately Harm Minorities

 

Contact: David Almasi
(202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected]
For Release: September 21, 2006


Washington, D.C. - Legislation introduced by Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) to create a federal "National Heritage Area" that encompasses portions of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania is likely to disproportionately harm minority families in the region by making homeownership more inaccessible, say members of the Project 21 black leadership network.

The "Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act of 2006" is S. 2645 in the Senate and H.R. 5195 in the House.

"Rather than promote initiatives that harm property rights and make it harder for minorities to obtain a piece of the American Dream, Senator Allen should focus on protecting the property rights of all Americans," said Project 21 member and Virginia resident John Meredith.

Meredith, who has experience working on environmental and land use issues, is also the son of James Meredith, the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962.

"The last thing that wealthy, preservation interest groups need is a leg up from the federal government-especially when that leg up comes on the back of minorities and the lower middle class," said Meredith.

National Heritage Areas are land areas where preservationist interest groups and the federal government have teamed up to influence local land use decisions, frequently in ways that have restricted property rights. 

A March 2004 report from the General Accountability Office found that provisions of such areas "encourage local governments to implement land use policies that are consistent with the heritage area's plans, which may allow heritage areas to indirectly influence zoning and land use planning in ways that could restrict owners' use of their property."

Although the bill was introduced ostensibly for the purpose of historic preservation, and its advocates - apparently for public relations purposes - have marketed it as a pro-tourism measure, supporters have repeatedly claimed the bill is needed to combat suburban sprawl.  

New land-use restrictions affecting housing availability could be bad news for minorities in the "hallowed ground" region.  A National Center for Public Policy Research-commissioned econometric study, "Smart Growth and Its Effects on Housing Markets:  The New Segregation," found that anti-sprawl policies disproportionately and negatively affect minority homeownership:

Poor and minority families pay a disproportionate amount of the social and economic costs of growth restrictions.  The weight of increased home prices falls most heavily on minorities, the disadvantaged and the young, fewer of whom already own homes.  The "haves" who already own homes ride the price bubble created by restricted growth policies while the dream of ownership moves further away from the "have-nots."

The 2002 study, which examined the social and economic impact of one model for sharply curtailing sprawl, found that growth restrictions would have prevented 260,000 minority homeowner families from homeownership had they been applied nationally over the preceding decade.

Housing restrictions can have strong, negative affects on the quality of life for families who cannot afford skyrocketing housing prices.  The introduction to the "New Segregation" study tells the story of a 45-year-old waitress living in Fairfax County, Virginia, who, despite having over $2,000 a month to spend, lives in a seedy hotel with her four children and receives financial aid from the county because the average rent in the area at the time was over $1,100 per month.  During the 1990s, due to Fairfax County's severe development restrictions, the county added 110,000 fewer housing units than it did new jobs.

"Serving the interests of preservationist elites at the expense of normal, everyday Americans is unacceptable," said Project 21 Senior Fellow Deneen Moore.  "The public outcry over last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Kelo eminent domain case shows that Americans want stronger property rights protections - not new threats to private ownership."

"I am at a loss to understand how this furthers the interests of anyone but the super-elite," said Project 21 national chairman Mychal Massie.  "Suffice it to say that this land-use initiative is harmful and punitive to the very people elected officials promised to protect."

Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992.  For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21's website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.


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