Editorial: The ‘Suburban Lifestyle Dream’

President Trump is trailing his presidential rival Joe Biden badly in the suburbs, particularly among women.

So it was no surprise that he recently made a direct appeal to suburban voters. And, sadly, no surprise emerged in how he tried to do it – with a change in federal housing rules that would hurt Blacks and other low-income people announced in a tweet.

“I am happy to inform all the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” Trump tweeted. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!!”

Trump was referring to a change in fair-housing rules made during the Obama administration that required localities that received federal housing funding to address any biased practices that concentrated low-income housing in small geographic areas.

Of which, Nassau County is a prime example.

The rule was an extension of the Fair Housing Act, approved as part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which was seen as a landmark decision not only for Blacks but also Jews and other Americans who had been blocked by federal, state and local laws from living or buying homes in majority-white or non-Jewish neighborhoods.

In an earlier tweet directed at “the Suburban Housewives of America,” Trump warned that Biden “will destroy your neighborhood and your American dream.”

Trump’s tweets are based on several ugly or just plain false assumptions. Or both.

That people living in the suburbs are bothered by having people in low-incoming housing live near them. That they are hurt financially by low-income housing built near them. That people moving to the suburbs would be more likely to commit crimes than people living here now. And that housing prices would go up if affordable housing was discouraged where they live.

In other words, Trump was saying he hoped to do for the suburbs what he and his father had done in the 1970s – keep Blacks out of the family’s New York City apartment buildings as spelled out in a Justice Department lawsuit.

Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker assailed what he called Trump’s “baseless assertion that affordable housing is detrimental to the suburbs and the thinly veiled racism he used to convey his ridiculous claim.”

We agree with Drucker with one exception – we don’t think the racism was thinly veiled.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson explained it this way:

“We can be confident this tweet was racist rather than classist because it came in a certain context,” Gerson wrote. “Trump was fresh from refusing to attend John Lewis’ memorial, and tweeting a supporter yelling ‘White Power!” and passing along videos of Black people assaulting white people, and playing down police violence against African Americans, and defending Confederate monuments and place names, and supporting right-wing groups carrying Confederate flags, as they marched in state capitals, and observing that ‘people love’ the Confederate flag.”

Gerson, it should be noted, is a Republican who served in the administration of President George W. Bush as both a speechwriter and policy adviser.

We don’t think the president’s strategy will persuade suburban voters – even in Nassau County.

It is true that Richard Nixon successfully played on the fears of suburban voters in 1968 during a period of racial unrest.

It is also true that Nassau County remains one of the nation’s most racially segregated suburbs, thanks to zoning codes, mortgage redlining, blockbusting, school district boundaries, major roadways, outright racism and racial steering practiced by some real estate agents.

A Newsday report in November showed that a majority of Blacks live in just 11 of Long Island’s 291 communities.

A study by Blank Slate Media published just last week shows Nassau County school districts that allocate the most funds per enrolled student outspend districts that provide the least amount by more than $20,000.

And we found the districts that spend the least generally have the highest percentage of Blacks.

Still, the times they are a-changin.’

For starters, addressing women living in the suburbs as  “Suburban Housewives of America” – as if this was the 1950s and they were waiting at home in their high heels for their husband to return from work – may not be the best way to persuade the many women who have their own careers, are the sole breadwinners in their family or both.

Suburban women – and suburban men – also care much more about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus than housing rules established in 2015.

If Trump wanted to win votes in the suburbs, he should have led a national response to the coronavirus that took the threat seriously and provided the tools necessary to combat it while taking a leadership role on social distancing and masks.

But he didn’t. And now the virus has infected more than 4.6 million Americans, killed more than 150,000 people, cratered the economy and is still raging out of control as schools get ready to open this fall.

Suburban women and men, we believe, are more worried about their jobs and the health of their families than whether Black families are moving nearby.

And even if they are worried about Black families in their neighborhood, just exactly what changed with the AFFH Rule since it was established by the Obama administration in 2015?

Has Nassau County gotten less safe? No, the crime has gone down. Have housing prices gone down? No. Housing prices have risen – even though the supply of homes has gone down. Has more affordable housing been built? No.

So what exactly has been the harm?

In a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, Trump trailed Biden by 16 points, 51 to 35 percent, in suburban areas. Just 38 percent percent of voters in the suburbs approved of Trump’s job performance compared with 59 percent who disapprove.

Suburban voters also disapproved of Trump’s handling of racial protests and race relations by an even larger margin and 65 percent had a favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The sight of a police officer in Minneapolis kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for eight minutes and 46 seconds has apparently provided the proof of systemic racism in this country needed to change voters’ minds.

And Gov. Cuomo took a small step in the right direction on Monday by signing into law legislation to address the racial steering of Blacks exposed in the Newsday’s series.

We would like to believe that this is the start of changes in Nassau County and other suburban areas.

Hopefully, one in which the Suburban Lifestyle Dream can be celebrated by all its residents – regardless of the color of their skin.

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The Island Now

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