A controversial Obama program that’s reaped enormous amounts of taxpayer money to transform slums into desirable middle-class neighborhoods just got a $5 million infusion from the Trump administration. Known as Choice Neighborhoods, the costly experiment was the centerpiece of a broader Obama initiative to convert poverty-stricken neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income areas with affordable housing, safe streets and good schools. It was launched as a collaboration between the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Education, Justice, Treasury and Health and Human Services (HHS) to help attract private investment necessary to transform distressed areas.
During Obama’s tenure Choice Neighborhoods received a breathtaking $375 million, according to HUD figures. A substantial chunk of it—$120 million—was rewarded as a parting gift in 2016, the HUD numbers reveal and the largest portion—$122.27 million—was allocated in 2010 when Obama launched the program. Like many of the former president’s initiatives, large sums of cash went to leftist nonprofits and community groups that aligned with his liberal agenda. Back in 2012 Judicial Watch reported that the administration paid half a million dollars to study the effectiveness of Choice Neighborhoods, including the challenges of brining healthy food options to poor areas and the characteristics of the neighborhoods being targeted for transformation.
The recent $5 million infusion will promote “a comprehensive approach to transforming neighborhoods struggling to address the interconnected challenges of distressed housing, inadequate schools, poor health, high crime, and lack of capital,” according to a HUD statement. Los Angeles California, Lewiston Maine and Philadelphia Pennsylvania will receive the biggest portions, $1.3 million each. Chicago Illinois, Huntington West Virginia and Cleveland Ohio each get $350,000 to revitalize poor neighborhoods. The goal is to replace distressed public housing with high-quality, mixed-income housing and improve residents’ employment, income, health and education. Ultimately this will create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods, the agency announcement states. Three of the awardees will get an additional $950,000 for “action activities” to build momentum and attract additional investment, according to HUD. The extra cash can be used to recycle vacant properties into community gardens or farmers markets or for community arts projects that beautify an area.
There was tremendous hope that the Trump administration would cut back on some of these wasteful Obama-era programs at many of the government’s largest agencies, especially HUD. So far that hasn’t been the case. Earlier this year HUD gave dozens of leftist groups that purport to fight housing discrimination $37 million. The biggest chunk—$999,962—went to a nonprofit that attacked President Trump for terminating an Obama program that protects hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Shortly before getting its money the Washington D.C. group, National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), bashed the president over a contentious policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that shields nearly 800,000 illegal aliens under the age of 31 from deportation and lets them obtain work permits and drivers’ licenses.
HUD has been embroiled in a multitude of serious scandals—under both Democrat and Republican administrations—over the years involving leadership, low-level employees and field directors. Problems go back to the Ronald Reagan administration, when an influence-peddling scandal led to the conviction of 16 people, including top aides to then HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce. Bill Clinton’s housing secretary, Henry Cisneros, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about payments to his former mistress. George W. Bush’s HUD secretary, Alphonso Jackson, was ousted after the feds launched an investigation into his plots to enrich himself and his friends by giving them lucrative government contracts. Barack Obama’s second HUD secretary, Julian Castro, misspent the agency’s federal funds as mayor of San Antonio.