Gary Morse: RhodeMap RI Is a Road Map to Disaster

Governor Chafee wrote an op-ed in the November 8th Projo titled “RhodeMap RI offers great plan for the state.” In it, he touts his vision for his RhodeMap RI initiative. What the Governor did not tell anyone was that this vision, supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has already been tried somewhere else, and is failing miserably.

Strip away all the happy-talk about walking communities and bike paths, and what RhodeMap RI really is all about is HUD’s demand that low income housing, particularly, low income rental housing, must be implemented side-by-side with existing housing in every neighborhood across America. And HUD means it when they say “every” neighborhood.

RhodeMap RI proponents have it in mind that the time honored maxim of buying a home based on “location, location, location” must be replaced by central planning directed by a Social Equity Advisory Committee. HUD also supports this idea and believes that personal preference in choosing “location, location, location” must be ended with forced public policy. So how are things going in Westchester County, NY, which was the first place to come face-to-face with HUD’s central planning vision? In a word, terrible.

Despite Westchester’s wealth, it is largely a Democrat stronghold producing some of the largest margins for state and national elections in favor of Democrat candidates. Bill and Hillary Clinton chose the Westchester hamlet of Chappaqua after leaving office in 2000. But for five years, Westchester’s progressive-thinking residents have tossed the HUD happy-talk into the dumpster and are fighting back hard against HUD’s progressive housing ideas.

In 2006, activists sued Westchester in federal court on a claim that because the county took HUD money, it was obligated to spend the money in a manner compliant to HUD’s rules. A settlement was reached in 2009, but not a settlement the residents agreed with. In the election that immediately followed, the three-term incumbent Democrat who organized the settlement, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, was crushed by a Republican who campaigned on a mandate to challenge the HUD settlement in every way possible.

For five years, Republican County Executive, Rob Astorino, has been fighting HUD. But in April, 2014, the plaintiffs in the Westchester lawsuit filed with the presiding judge in the case, Federal Judge Denise Cote, a 37 page manifesto titled “Cheating On Every Level,” outlining how the residents of Westchester have thwarted the terms of the settlement agreement. That manifesto roughly translates to the tenets of RhodeMap RI. Walking communities and bike paths are simply a cover. It appears even the progressive-thinking residents of Westchester have their limits.

The roots of RhodeMap RI can be traced back to the Westchester lawsuit. HUD has made clear their intent to take the results of the Westchester case nationwide. I’m sure they were thrilled to find a willing partner in our Governor.

RhodeMap RI is a HUD experiment, backed up by the force of the federal courts, once a community signs on. There is little evidence to show what actually happens to property values, and property taxes, as this social experiment rolls out. For that, Rhode Island residents might want to do a little research to find out how happy the residents of Westchester are with their five-year roll-out.

Perhaps the governor might have started there, as well.


Gary Morse is a retired communications consultant and an active opponent in the debate on affordable housing and RhodeMap RI.

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