Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing
Prior to coming to HUD, Joseph Shuldiner was executive director of the Los Angeles Housing Authority (1990-93) and before that was general manager of the New York City Housing Authority. Reportedly, Shuldiner is the first person ever at the head of the nation’s public housing program who actually has run a local housing authority. Prior to entering the world of public housing, Shuldiner was a legal services attorney in the Bronx and a teacher in the New York City public school system. The interview was held on July 21, 1994.
Chester Hartman: First, what are your priorities in the debate about using HUD funds to build more public housing versus modernizing and improving the existing stock?
Joseph Shuldiner: I don’t think it is a question of new versus old in the sense that Congress allocates development funds and such funds should be used only for new development. What we have said that is different is that if I have a development and I have modernization money to modernize it, and looking at this particular development I feel that if I spend $20 million modernizing it, I’ll still have a 50-year old structure that may or may not actually meet the needs of my residents today – then why couldn’t I have used $50 million to either partially or totally demolish it and replace the units? That’s the kind of flexibility we’re seeking.
We want to see the units modernized, but we recognize that for some developments modernization isn’t going to do it, and we should allow the money to be used for replacement. This takes nothing away from the money that is allocated for development; in fact, it might free up more development because $150 million a year in development money goes to replacement.
Our approach gives housing authorities much more flexibility as to how they use their modernization money and how they address the needs of a particular development.
CH: I understand that HUD plans to allow demolition of about 100,000 vacant public housing units in the near future. Do you see replacing them with new construction or with vouchers and certificates?
JS: We support the idea of one-for-one replacement.
CH: Not necessarily prior to demolition, though – it could happen 4 or 5 years afterwards?
JS: Obviously, if you were going to replace on-site you couldn’t do it prior. If at all possible, I see no problem with prior. The issue has not been so much one-for-one replacement but that developments that should have been demolished haven’t been because the money has not been there for replacement, so everything just sits and that’s what we don’t want. We’re trying to respond to the reality which is, first, there’s a statute that says for developments where more than 200 units are demolished up to 50 percent of them can be Section 8. We had an internal opinion that basically said the law did not mean what it said on its face.
So what we’re saying is that we support the law that allows up to half replacement with Section 8 certificates when more than 200 units are being demolished. In fact, I have personally testified and taken abuse from Congresspeople who say, `why do you defend one-for-one replacement, isn’t that the culprit?’ No, the culprit is that there isn’t enough money to carry out one-for-one replacement. One-for-one replacement is in almost all circumstances a good idea. We would prefer that as much be done beforehand as possible.
CH: Should housing authorities encourage the working poor to remain in public housing rather than have it be a way-station to private housing, or should the limited number of units go to those most in need? Implicit in that question is whether 100 percent low-income developments can succeed.
JS: In certain circumstances they might succeed. Generally, I would make two strong arguments for economic mix. First, when we’re talking about public housing we’re talking about building communities and you don’t build communities by saying very low-income people live here, low-income people live here and moderate-income live over here. You build communities by saying let’s have housing and let’s integrate as much as possible. We should be about building stable communities.
The response I always get is, this will mean that fewer very low-income people get in and they are the ones with the greatest needs. I’d rather have 75 units in a viable community than have 100 units in Robert Taylor. Second, and related, the Robert Taylors are so distasteful, we can’t get the American public to ever fund any of it. So the real way to get housing for people is to have a product that the American public will be willing to pay for, and that I think is one of the reasons you need the economic mix. If you have a better, viable community, then maybe we’ll end up with more total units. That’s obviously not going to happen tomorrow, but we’ve got to go in that direction.
CH: Another mix issue has to do with disabled, non-elderly individuals moving into developments formerly occupied exclusively by the elderly, which has led to troubling incidents of intimidation and violence by mentally disturbed or drug- or alcohol-dependent tenants. The elderly tenants are frightened, sometimes abused, and in some cities are not applying for public housing. What’s the answer to that dilemma?
JS: This is obviously an extremely difficult problem. The historic context is that we earlier recognized the special needs of the elderly, and then the disabled population was let in on the theory that primarily physically disabled people would not be a threat to the elderly. But unfortunately, in the last 20 years, we’ve seen that more and more of the disabled population in fact are mentally disabled or people with either recovering or non-recovering drug and alcohol abuse problems. And so you’ve had some of the incidents you’ve mentioned.
Congress has spoken about this problem, and HUD is carrying out this legislation that allows for the demixing. That will help somewhat. It allows a housing authority to designate housing as seniors only. Interestingly enough, by and large, most disabled persons would prefer to mainstream and not to be in a designated place for the disabled.
Part of the problem is that the government – not just HUD or the federal government – has not funded enough support services. At least my experience has been that where you have this mix, if you have service providers on site, the mentally disabled person gets his or her medicine, does not act out and does not become a threat. The elderly, in these situations, are not as concerned and do not feel threatened by their younger neighbors.
Without services, you have two populations thrown together, both with extreme needs, and neither group’s needs are being met. The answer has been, OK, we’ll separate them; that’s probably going to help in some instances. But the way the law’s written not everybody will be able to take advantage of it. So, for the vast majority of senior/handicapped residents of public housing things are going to remain as is, and what we need to do is get more services into those buildings to help the populations co-exist.
CH: The issue of social services and public housing has been with us for quite some time. What’s your view on how to get the various programs and bureaucracies on the federal, state and local levels to cooperate and integrate their efforts?
JS: We have put populations with a tremendous amount of needs in a concentrated place. So we need to find some way to provide for them. I think we’re beginning to see some relationships.
Some of this is not a failure of the federal departments to work together, but a recognition that they don’t have the same structure out in the field. HUD has a field office, has the authority as contractee. If we have a policy, we know the housing authority and the local HUD office will listen to it. If the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a policy, their money goes out to states, which in turn goes to county Departments of Social Services, who don’t feel any relationship to the federal HHS. So you have that breakdown.
But we’re going through a number of pilot or demonstration ideas that will improve things. The largest will undoubtedly be the Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities, where all the agencies work together. Also, we have found that in a number of locations we are working with federal agencies, such as the Department of Education, to target resources to schools that serve primarily public housing kids [by keeping those schools open to see what impact it has]. We’re working with the Justice and Treasury Departments on a number of efforts to address crime problems in public housing. Of course, we’re working with the Department of Labor, and are actively involved in the operation of District of Columbia’s housing authority. Here in Washington, we’re trying to coordinate with all these agencies. So a number of experiments are going on in different departments to see how we can break down these firewalls and work more closely together. We’ve had some progress, but obviously a lot more has to be made.
CH: Inter-ethnic hostilities have been rampant in many public housing projects. In San Francisco, Asian-American tenants have brought suit alleging harassment and violence from black tenants that the housing authority has ignored. In Los Angeles, similar tensions and violence exist between Chicano and black tenants, again with the housing authority doing little to prevent it. As a matter of fact, I understand you are a defendant in a lawsuit stemming from arson and death involving several Latino tenants while you were director there. What do you intend to do about inter-ethnic and inter-racial hostilities?
JS: Roberta Achtenberg [HUD Asst. Sec. for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity] and I together went out to San Francisco and Los Angles to meet with groups there to see if there’s a way to create a task force to begin to address this problem. It’s not an easy one, and it’s tearing at a lot of American society. As part of our cross-departmental work, there was an effort last fall to put together a major opus dealing with violence in general that was co-ordinated by then Deputy Attorney General Phil Heymann; Peter Edelman, Counsel to Donna Shalala; and Madeline Kunin, the Deputy Secretary of Education. HUD, Labor and Agriculture also participated, breaking up into a number of subcommittees dealing with various issues of violence. That produced voluminous documents that, to some extent, migrated to what became a large part of the prevention piece in the crime bill. When we started, the crime bill was all cops and prisons, and in its present form has significant dollars for prevention – I think that came out of our efforts. Some of those committees continue and the one that is dealing with inter-racial violence is being coordinated by Justice.
CH: That’s more than just public housing?
JS: It does both. Ms. Achtenberg and I have representatives on that task force. So on the larger issue we are working on a multi-departmental effort to figure out how we deal with this. In the public housing area we’re trying to work in Los Angeles and San Francisco with groups that are addressing these problems. It is extremely troublesome.
Another aspect, although it doesn’t go directly to the racial issue but certainly goes to the violence issue: [the crime bill as passed contains $377 million, rolled into the local crime prevention grants, to start in 1996] for something called YES-Youth Employment Skills, which is based on the premise that if give young people jobs crime will go down. And while that’s not targeted specifically to public housing, it is targeted to high poverty/high crime neighborhoods, which will probably tend to be overwhelmingly public housing. A lot of the racial tensions come out of people having excessive unmet needs and viewing each other as competitors for those needs. If we can get more people jobs and improve the community and the environment, I’d like to believe that would greatly lessen those tensions.
CH: Has any thought been given to ethnic segregation – not putting an Asian-American family into Portrero Hill [a San Francisco project where these tensions have been virulent]?
JS: I think our position has sharpened on this. There’s a greater understanding of the need for people to be able to make choices and that we can’t have integration just for social engineering sake. The real issue is to give people options: if you want to move to the white suburbs, you can; if you want to stay with your own ethnic group, you can. But we want to see that you are counselled and understand what your choices are and understand you’ll be supported in your choices. If you choose to stay, then we need to do something about upgrading this community.
That is somewhat different from where we were a year ago. I don’t know whether minority groups will develop better because they get to develop among each other or develop better in integrated settings. But we want to provide the counselling and the support so people can make decisions.
CH: The Gautreaux experiment is all the rage now. In fact, HUD is replicating it in several cities, giving vouchers to desegregate ghettoized housing projects. Do you see this as an overall strategy for dealing with the highly segregated nature of public housing?
JS: I think Gautreaux is one aspect of it. Is the only answer to demolish all existing public housing and give everybody a Section 8 certificate and scatter them to the four winds? I would say no. Some of the things we’re advocating in the legislation now are perfect counter-examples: for example, the ability not only to use modernization money for demolition and replacement but to be able to leverage it with other money to do cross-economic integration projects so you could put up 100 units of which only 25 percent are public housing. You could argue that what Vince Lane did in Lake Park, where it’s half market and half public housing, is another way to address the Gautreaux problem. I don’t know whether it achieved racial integration, but it obviously achieved a much greater range of economic integration.
CH: What’s your philosophy regarding empowerment and tenant organizing? Should tenant groups be organized by the local housing authority or should they be independent? A major theory of community organizing, particularly for generally disenfranchised people, is that confrontation and struggle are necessary to build solidarity, and that campaigns must be won by struggle in order to negotiate as equals with those who hold power.
JS: We are committed to residents participating and having actual say in decisions and in their own destiny. We believe that’s empowerment. But everybody has their own definition. We have a very clear difference from the prior Administration. Secretary Kemp very much supported resident empowerment, but he defined it very narrowly – that it’s resident management, it’s resident ownership. If you don’t do that, it isn’t empowerment.
An example of it is that the prior Administration’s technical assistance money (TAG) was $5 million, and you could only get it if you were going to be a resident management corporation. This year we gave out $25 million and we have asked for $85 million in the ’95 budget, and we have legislation pending now that would open it up. It wouldn’t limit it to resident management and it wouldn’t limit it to $100,000 a group. It would basically say, whatever you need to get your act together, were going to stick with you so you have some real power.
Now, as to who can provide the training, you’re talking about two different things. The organizing and the structural training should probably be done by some third party in most instances. But if you’re talking about having somebody trained in resident management or job development, then you’d bring in an expert, and who could better train you on managing the site than the housing authority? Who could train you on creating jobs better than an entity that does job development? But I certainly believe that in many circumstances that first trainer has to be the one who comes in and breathes fire and gets people organized.
I don’t agree that you have to be organized against the housing authority, because to some extent that perpetuates the weaknesses of the residents. If you don’t get the residents involved in the politics of the whole community, if you don’t get the residents to try to change the bus route and the sanitation pick-up and those things, you could beat up the housing authority all you want and they couldn’t do a darn thing about any of those. So I think in the long run the residents are not served by an entity that comes in and says the housing authority is the enemy, let’s organize against them. You have to say the conditions I live in are the enemy. What are the priorities, what do I want changed, and who can change them?
CH: Some housing authorities have a plantation mentality regarding their tenants. What can you, as Assistant Secretary in Washington, do to help create effective, empowered tenant groups and get the more resistant housing authorities to shape up?
JS: First of all, we make it very clear that the mission of public housing is the residents, that the housing authorities don’t exist to give jobs to their employees. Second, we increased the money that is going to residents to get organized; if residents get organized, they’ll take care of the problems themselves –they don’t need us. In the NOFA we just released a couple of months ago, for the first time we had a set-aside for the national organizing groups; we want to support groups that go into places that are totally unorganized and organize the residents. We have put out proposed regulations that say if a resident group has regular elections and does xyz in order to be recognized, the housing board has to recognize them and has to set aside units for office space, and if appropriate, has to provide some funding. We put all this in the Public Housing Management Assessment Program scoring system on how we grade housing authorities.
The other thing we stress to housing authorities is that public housing is having lots of trouble in Congress; if you don’t organize the people who live there and the people on the waiting list, they won’t lobby, and if they don’t lobby, the industry itself isn’t going to get it done. So I think there is a lot of self-interest in the housing authority’s doing it, and HUD will continue to preach, regulate and fund to make the resident groups real.
It was absolutely mind-boggling to me that when I invited all national and statewide resident groups to come here, those people had never been in the same room together. I actually disagree with a number of items in the new regs, but that was the list of items the group agreed to and that’s what we went with. There was an item that the Secretary disagreed with; he believes a resident leader should be able to work for the housing authority. The tenants believe it’s a conflict of interest. I believe that there should be term limits, that the same person should be not be president of an organization for 20 years. The tenants didn’t.
CH: Recent housing authority efforts in Chicago and elsewhere to deal with drug and crime problems involved some pretty scary and repressive tactics reminiscent of a police state. What can be done about crime and drugs without trampling on basic rights?
JS: Actually, I think Chicago is a perfect example. When you got down to what was actually legal, it was all good management. I think there was a misunderstanding by the public over our very real desire to support Vince Lane and the very difficult situation with 300 shootings in one weekend, 15 people shot, five killed. I mean we’re talking Beirut. We can’t tolerate that. When the Secretary went out there that weekend, the residents came up to him and said, just stop the shooting, just stop it.
What we’ve always said in terms of when you can do sweeps and searches has been very clear. There is a four-point program. One, you can sweep or search in common areas, in the entryways, the hallways, the mail rooms, whatever. Second, you can go into vacant apartments, and again both of those are examples of good management, because a good manager has control of the site that he or she is responsible for. The third thing is that you can do sweeps when you get the residents’ permission. The fourth is the one that’s always existed: in some exigent circumstances, warrantless sweeps are OK and that is for the court to decide. Police forces know what the test is; they may choose to push the envelope, but they know what the test is. It was pretty obvious that the test had not been met in Chicago, where the police went in more than 48 hours after the fact and swept the whole building, with absolutely no expectation they would find anything.
Our position has been pretty much down the middle: you’ve got to get control of the premises, and if you do it right, sweeps and unwarranted searches don’t become necessary.
Interestingly, a number of authorities – Philadelphia, Baltimore – have conducted sweeps without any problem from the ACLU. They either do announced sweeps or they basically do the sweeps that Vince Lane was able to get the ACLU to agree to, which were basically inspector sweeps: the inspector would come in and look at the unit, a non-police presence.
My personal view is that police are an important actor in the larger puzzle, but in the end only a community can take back a community. So I would ask the housing authority to identify its problems and come up with a comprehensive plan, which has to involve the community and has to recognize the fact that even if you get the National Guard to come in they’re only going to come in for a short period of time. What’s going to be left when they leave? What is the plan? The role of the police is to foster an atmosphere where the community can get the job done, but if the community is afraid to do anything, you need the police to come in and create an atmosphere where people are not so afraid, where they will in fact participate. But in the end if you don’t have the community do it, it doesn’t get done.
We’re also disseminating to housing authorities various studies on youth employment, job programs, and two on crime that say, if you’re interested in drug interdiction, here are four programs where different housing authorities tried interdiction, here are the contact persons, here’s how they work, and here are the successes or failures. That’s part of our clearinghouse function.
We’re also working through the U. S. Attorney’s office at the request of the Attorney General to focus federal law enforcement efforts on public housing, so we’ve had a number of incidents where the FBI and the DEA have targeted resources for public housing. I would want to be sure the local community was giving public housing its fair share of police protection. We know that poorer neighborhoods are underserved, that a cop is there in five seconds in a good neighborhood and you never can find one in a poor neighborhood.
CH: Let me jump from Robert Taylor Homes to Indian reservations. What special attention needs to be paid to the Native American public housing program? There are some special problems: for example, the difficulty in obtaining decent private housing, so that if incomes rise, the 30 percent of income rule leaves some families paying extremely high rents for public housing. What are you doing and what do you plan to do to meet the special needs of Native Americans in public housing?
JS: First, let me emphasize there is legislation pending that will change the 30 percent rule for everybody in public housing, not just Native Americans. This Administration has already focused more on Native Americans than any other. The President has met with tribal leaders, which has never happened before, and the Secretary participated in that. The Secretary went out to the listening post in Albuquerque with Interior Secretary Babbitt and Attorney General Reno.
I think we’ve made a real difference. In two weeks we’re publishing new regulations that reduce existing regulations by 45 percent. What we’re telling the Indian housing authorities and the tribes is, we’re going to give you much more flexibility. You’re the experts, we want to do things fundable. We’ve made HUD a one-stop shop. Our Office of Native American Programs does not only public housing but CDBG and HOME for Indian housing. By September we will be issuing guaranteed mortgages and an insured loan program for Native Americans. We have issued booklets where we have relaxed design standards to encourage traditional designs in construction. We’re working right now to try to create an Indian banking system to issue mortgages [the Native American Financing Company]. One of the biggest problems is that Federal government has to provide all the housing because you can’t get a mortgage on Indian land, so even if you have money you can’t buy anything and you can’t build anything because you can’t get a mortgage. To some extent the loan guarantee program will do that, although it is limited in scope. We need to get the private banks into this area.
Yesterday, I was in Sioux Falls for Consultation ’94, where we met with all the Indian housing authorities and many of the tribes and just listened to them and asked them what they wanted. They get 1 percent of the HOME and CDBG money; we’re going to try to get them 1 1/2 percent. I don’t know if the politics will allow it, because the mayors won’t be thrilled about that. We are looking at the possibility of giving them formulas, since they don’t like competing against each other.
One of the things I’ve tried to impart to my staff is true for both Indian housing and public housing: the mission is safe, decent and affordable housing for people of low income. HUD doesn’t carry out that mission, we don’t provide housing, the housing authorities carry it out. In the past we felt that if they failed but we were able to write a report that said it was their fault, we did our job. What I say is that, if they fail, then we fail because the mission isn’t accomplished. We have to be about getting them to succeed in the first place, not punishing them after the fact or correcting them after they screwed up. The tribe knows better than we do what its needs are and has a responsibility to address them, and we have to provide resources, training, a clearinghouse and technical assistance and help with problem-solving. That’s HUD’s function and that’s what it ought to be.
CH: What about whether local housing authorities have the managerial or leadership capacity? Generally, there’s not good leadership at the local level. Where is that going to come from, and can you really succeed in your efforts without those kinds of leaders?
JS: I think management of PHAs is a key. There’s legislation pending that we’ve written that would require Executive Directors to be certified. Right now, if you’re a manager of 75 units or more you have to be certified, but we’re looking at similar kinds of things for the higher echelons. We’re beginning to explore possibilities of asking that housing authorities be accredited. The Secretary has been talking to Marilynn Davis, our Assistant Secretary for Administration, about having the HUD Training Academy or universities create programs and curricula that would get at either the Executive Director [ED] or the next level of people to be trained. The Public Housing Authority Directors Association, one of the industry groups, met with me because they have a proposal for the University of Western Michigan to come up with a BA in Public Administration with a major in public housing.
You also have to balance between poor management because people are incapable or whether poor management is by design. Many times when you look at a troubled housing authority you’ll find politics. In some communities they’re not interested in having the best talent in public housing. Sometimes it’s beyond control. You take a place like New Orleans: because of the state’s civil service system, except for the ED, who’s a contract employee, the number two person can’t earn more than $25,000 a year, so who are you going to attract to be number two person in New Orleans?
People say, it’s just good management, get in there and do it. Well, yes, I agree with that, but also I recognize that for these housing authorities, especially the ones that have been in trouble for 15-20 years, there are unique circumstances you must address if you’re going to change the situation. In Philadelphia, the reason we put the mayor in as the Board President is that we felt the city didn’t care what happened to the housing authority. They let it go down the tubes all those years; they didn’t view it as part of the city. By putting the mayor and the president of the city council on the Board we were saying, `hi there, this is part of the city – you care.’
CH: I understand Vince Lane talks sometimes of having just 20 people run the Chicago Housing Authority, and privatizing the whole operation. What’s your thought about that as the future of local public housing administration?
JS: First of all, I want to quickly distinguish between privatization of management and privatization of ownership. We are not contemplating privatization of ownership. That’s not to say that we don’t support HOPE I in certain limited circumstances where residents actually want to buy the unit of public housing that he or she wants to live in. But by and large we believe that the RTC, VA and FHA homes are much better opportunities for home ownership.
On privatization of management, I have a very general view. I think residents are entitled to good services. If the housing authority gives it to them, fantastic; if they can’t, somebody else ought to. That’s the bottom line. The residents need to be served – it doesn’t really matter who provides it.
In Puerto Rico, they threw everybody out and privatized the entire project management function. Well, it’s worked in some developments and hasn’t worked in others, because, just as there is uneven management in public housing, when they brought in 12 private companies, some were good and some weren’t so good. They probably went too far there. Not only did they bring in some less than wonderful managers, but they really stripped the housing authority’s central office of having adequate ability to coordinate things, to apply for funds.
What Vince Lane talks about is a bit more esoteric: it’s the housing authority as an asset manager. I can start from the premise that the housing authority owns and/or controls the units. In some cases it manages itself, in some cases residents manage it, in some cases it may be home ownership with long-term leases. In Los Angeles, if I buy ten units in a 100-150 unit condo, the housing authority isn’t going to run those ten units, they’re going to be run by the condo association. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a fantastic idea. What we’re interested in is the bottom line: we provide a good environment and the residents get services, and the housing authority figures out the best way to get it done either itself or by contract or some other way.
CH: What can you and HUD do to improve the poor image of public housing and gain more support for the program in Congress and in the media? And what should housing activists be doing in this climate?
JS: First, we’re saying that public housing is important. It’s way up on HUD’s agenda. Nobody doubts that the Secretary doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in public housing.
The second thing is that we’re willing to take on the toughest cases. We’re willing to deal with Philadelphia, we’re willing to deal with DC, to bury ourselves in it if that’s what it takes to get it done. We’d like to turn some of these toughies around to show that even the worst can be turned around within reason.
When I was back in New York everybody always used to say the thing that was killing us was Newark, because the editors from The New York Times would drive in from New Jersey to Manhattan and they would go by those vacant buildings and say, that’s public housing. We have to change the face of some of those places. Public housing, unfortunately, is known by its failures, not by its successes. If it’s good public housing, nobody knows it’s public housing. If it’s bad housing, everyone assumes it’s public housing. We’ve got to take some of the real bears and just remove them, so that they’re not on our landscape year after year. If there weren’t some of these really troubled developments like Robert Taylor and instead there was something that was attractive, then people’s perception would start changing.
It goes back to how would you redo a community? Outreach, for example. Public housing has insulated itself politically and has ended up being isolated. In the last NOFA for development we gave points for people who would bring in partners in management, partners in development or partners in social service provision. We gave points for people who were building or providing units in places where persons above 80 percent of median income will live, again forcing some type of economic integration. We’ve gotten the General Counsel to write opinions that say you can leverage money and create mixed-income communities.
Housing advocates saved us from ourselves. Look at what they did for us in Congress. We came out with a terrible budget for public housing, and between Congress and the advocates they restored the programs. To some extent, we need to get more on the same page. We can’t be fighting the issue we mentioned before about the poorest of the poor versus mixed income; we need to get back to community building and what that means. We can’t continue to fight over shrinking pies. We need to address problems and solve them.
What I tell the industry is, you’ve been beaten up for twelve years, you’ve been fighting in the trenches to keep the programs alive. We come in and you want to rest. Forget it. This is no time for rest, this is the time to actually make some gains. We’ve got to change this while we’ve got this opportunity.
CH: You and the Clinton administration may have only two more years to carry out your mandate. It’s hard to imagine that in so short a time the Cabrini Greens of the nation can really be turned around. What do you think realistically that you can leave as a legacy, should there be no second Clinton administration?
JS: If there’s no second administration, some of this will die aborning. Some things like the HOPE VI’s aren’t going to happen as fast, although many of them are much more advanced. We’ve already signed grants in Cleveland and Dallas and have ten more that we think we’ll sign in the next couple of weeks. We think those places will be in construction in a year or at least demolition. Those places could actually be done by the  election. I believe that if we get the legislation that allows mod monies to be used for demolition and replacement, it doesn’t matter who’s here anymore; that will be the law and people will take advantage of it.
I also think that with the work we’re doing with the residents, once those residents become organized and participate, there’s no going back. Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, the residents’ position will be secure in terms of participation. Legislation is pending mandating residents’ presence on all boards. I don’t believe you’ll see any slipping back from those kinds of things. The politics would have to drastically change.
I’d like to believe that the relationship between the HUD staff, both in the field and central office, and housing authorities and residents is also forever changed – that we understand we are here in a partnership, even though there may be times in which there is greater friction or less friction. But that we understand that the government is being changed and re-invented. That we all agree that the bottom line is results. That we are in this together to achieve those results. We are rewriting every single regulation. We have involved eleven committees with industry folk, residents, legal aid, and ourselves. I believe those regs will start being published in two months. I don’t believe that anyone would have the stomach to do this again. It’s taken us a year and a half. Who would even want to do this again?
It’s an appropriate last question, because that’s what the Secretary told us from day one. He said, “I want them to do things that aren’t going to be undone after we leave. They should know that we were here.” And I think in public housing and Indian housing we have responded to that challenge: to do the kinds of things that will make a real difference and won’t be changed a year from now.
This is the fourth interview of HUD Assistant Secretaries conducted by Shelterforce Associate Editor Chester Hartman. Previous interviews have been with Michael Stegman (November/December 1993), Nicolas Retsinas (January/February, 1994) and Andrew Cuomo (July/August 1994). Our next interview will be with Roberta Achtenberg, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity.
How to Save and Improve Public Housing: An Action Guide. Center for Community Change (CCC), Washington DC. 1994. Six chapters and appendices covering organizing, working with PHAs, improving the neighborhood and forming coalitions. $5 for nonprofits from CCC. 202-342-0567. firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Housing in Peril: A Report on the Demolition and Sale of Public Housing Projects. National Housing Law Project. Berkeley, CA 1990. Examined demolished or sold public housing projects during the years 1978 – 1988. $18 from the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services (report #45,625) 407 South Dearborn, Ste. 400, Chicago, IL 60605.
Alternatives to Conventional Public Housing Management. By William Peterman and Mary Anne Young. Nathalie P. Vorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement. University of Illinois at Chicago, 1991. Examined various types of management alternatives available to public housing tenants, their advantages, disadvantages and requirements for successful implementation. 312-996-5240.
The War on Drugs Targets Tenants. Housing Matters, vol. 5, no. 4, April 1992. Published by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, 99 Chauncy Street, 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02111; 617-357-0700. This issue takes a look at the problems of drugs in public housing and offers alternatives to the legally dubious and questionably effective housing “sweeps.”
Public Housing Homeownership Demonstration Assessment: Case Studies. By William Rohe and Michael Stegman. HUD, Washington, DC 1990. From HUD User, 800-245-2691.
See also Shelterforce articles in issue numbers 37, 52, 59 and 70.