Smart Growth Policies 'Hurt Poor and Minorities,' Report Alleges

July 7, 2008 - 8:20 PM

Washington CNSNews.com) - A new report says environmentally driven smart growth policies designed to combat urban sprawl are disproportionately hurting minorities and low-income residents and creating economic "segregation." The study also claims the policies are not having the desired traffic or environmental benefits.

"The impact of [smart growth] policies is undermining the progress of African Americans and other minorities," Edmund Peterson, told CNSNews.com at a policy conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday. Peterson is chairman of Project 21, a conservative African American advocacy group.

"By and large [minorities] will not be able to pursue America's best and biggest asset, which is home ownership," he said.

Peterson calls the new report, issued by the National Center for Public Policy Research, "devastating" to the smart growth advocates because it shows how the movement "stops people from moving up the social as well as economic ladder."

The report is entitled, "Smart Growth and Its Effects on Housing Markets: The New Segregation." According to the sponsors of the study, no corporate or housing funds were used to finance the research.

The National Center for Public Policy Research used Portland, Oregon's smart growth policies, considered to be the national model, as a baseline and tried to determine what the impact would be if the entire country adopted Portland's policies.

"Had these policies gone into effect 10 years ago, 260,000 minority families who are currently homeowners in the U.S. would not own their own homes today, and a total of a million families who currently enjoy their own homes wouldn't be doing so today," said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center.

"It's morally wrong to endorse policies that hurt poor and minorities more than anybody else without at least thinking through the policy and saying to yourself: 'Is it really worth it?'" Ridenour said.

David Almasi, executive director of the National Center, wants to see safeguards in place to protect people with low incomes.

"Smart growth regulations should be checked before they go into effect to make sure they don't inappropriately affect poor minority communities or the general population," Almasi said.

He added that because of the growth restrictions, "people are losing the opportunity to use their property."

"If governments want to save open space, they have the right to buy the land, but they don't have the right to come in and put regulations in place that tell people that own property or want to own property that they can't do something that is legal and legitimate," Almasi said.

'Yielding Incredible Benefits'

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman reiterated last week that the Bush administration "is committed to supporting the smart growth effort in every way that we can."

She spoke at an EPA ceremony where national awards were handed out for smart growth.

Smart Growth is "yielding incredible benefits" in terms of quality of life and environmental impact, according to Whitman.

"Smart Growth isn't about no growth or even slow growth, it is about growing in a way that will allow communities to sustain themselves," she told CNSNews.com.

Whitman sees the smart growth trend expanding because, she said, natural resources are becoming limited.

"That is a reality we all face. Water resources are finite. We know we have to ensure clean air for people and land. Open space for kids and communities is an essential part of quality of life," Whitman said.

She also denied that smart growth policies have a negative impact on minorities and low-income residents.

"Actually, one of the awardees, Breckenridge, Colorado, proves the exact opposite. What it did is focus on affordable housing linked to a transportation system that will give those people access to the jobs in the community," Whitman explained.

"Smart growth can be anything. It can meet whatever the need of that community is. If the needs of the community are affordable housing, there is a way to incorporate that into smart growth," she said.

Ridenour rejected Whitman's analysis of smart growth.

"I doubt the Bush administration has even realized that the poor and minorities are the most disproportionately negatively affected by smart growth," Ridenour said.

Almasi also accused the administration of acting out of ignorance.

"At this point they don't know any better. That's why the National Center has put this report together to point out these policies do have a problem," he said.

Al Gore Connection

Ridenour, noting that former Vice President Al Gore was a big proponent of smart growth, criticized the environmental movement for its restrictions on development.

"The environmental left enjoys telling people how to live their lives and there is nothing more intrinsic to your daily life than where you live, how you get to work and where your workplace is located," she said.

Smart growth is "a tremendous assault on private property rights and the free market," Ridenour said, often placing landowners in the position where their property eventually becomes useless.

"Smart growth advocates will say to people who already own land: 'Well, that is too bad, no investment is 100 percent safe.' Well, I am sorry. If you buy land and you have the proper zoning on it and suddenly someone changes the rules, that is not fair," she said.

The National Center for Public Policy Research also claims that smart growth policies actually increase "suburbanization" and do not reduce congestion or eliminate the need for infrastructure development.

Ridenour complained about what she sees as the arrogance of smart growth planners.

"It's saying we will decide in advance, 10 years, 20 years in advance, where you can live ... Nobody, no movement, is smart enough to decide where people live and how people should live their lives better than the people themselves," she said.

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.