Washington News and Views

From the National Alliance to End Homelessness

Clinton Administration to Propose HUD Reinvention

The Clinton Administration has thought better of a plan it had formulated to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but not before this plan was leaked to the press. In order to save the agency, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros has been forced to completely redesign it, with very little input from consumers or Congress. As a result, little consensus has built around the new proposals, leaving a wounded HUD drifting directionless while hungry Congressional sharks circle, eagerly seeking budget cutting opportunities.

The Administration’s proposal for HUD has three major components.

The Administration proposes to consolidate HUD’s current array of 60 programs into three Performance-Based Funds to be allocated by formula. The first, Housing Certificates for Families and Individuals, would eventually be a consolidation of current public housing, assisted housing and rental assistance programs. The second, the Affordable Housing Fund, would combine HUD grants for housing production and rehabilitation, including homeownership incentives (HOME, elderly and disabled housing, housing counseling, etc.) Homeless programs would be kept separate from this fund for FY96-97 and then be included in FY98. The third fund, called the Community Opportunity Fund, would combine CDBG, Youthbuild and EDI.

HUD also proposes to transform public housing by spending three years converting from project-based subsidies to tenant-based rental assistance. Public housing authorities would eventually have to compete with other housing providers to attract tenants.

Finally, HUD proposes to make FHA a government-owned but market-driven enterprise. The new FHA would consolidate existing insurance programs into two general insurance authorities – single family and multi-family housing.

The likely future of these proposals is difficult to assess. The realignment of the agency, as much less the forestalled elimination, is far more drastic than anything previously proposed by either Congressional Republicans or Democrats. It is rumored that senate Democrats, dismayed that the Administration is proposing to “fix” programs like HOME and CDBG that do not seem broken, will introduce their own bill. It is still unclear what Congressional Republicans will do, but the day after the press reported on rumor’s of HUD’s demise, House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich identified HUD as an agency vulnerable to elimination.

“I would argue that you could abolish HUD tomorrow morning and improve life in most of America…” Gingrich said in an interview with the Washington Post on December 13. He cited weak political constituencies as making the agency a prime candidate for elimination.

What can supporters of HUD programs do? Obviously, the first step is to eliminate the impression that HUD has no constituency. Mobilizing governors and state legislators – the constituency that seems most important to the new leadership in Congress – is particularly important. If the agency survives and some sort of block grant structure is initiated, we will need to address several issues. These include the targeting of assistance, performance standards, a commitment to community-based organizations, and, of course, funding levels. We also need to pay close attention to welfare reform, which is at the top of the agenda for the first 100 days and could tie our hands on many housing programs.

Those of us who use/support HUD programs have a challenging year before us. We will need to forge new alliances, re-think old assumptions, and become stronger advocates. We will have to demonstrate that what we do works and how it works. It is imperative, in this coming year, that we be bold in our thinking and persistent in our actions if we are to prevail in the areas of housing and community development.

Nan Roman, Vice President

From the National Congress for Community Economic Development
Stand Tall; We Belong

Since the mid-term elections, NCCED has received numerous calls from its members asking what implications the election results will have for the community-based development movement. The overriding feeling expressed by many of the callers was that the movement would be under siege as a result of the changed political landscape. While this may be a credible concern, I would like to offer our friends and allies an alternative view of what this change may mean for our movement.

First, our movement is not one which hinges on any particular election, political party or nation-wide mood. Second, our movement has a lot to offer any group of leaders genuinely interested in reducing poverty and revitalizing America’s urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods. Third, our greatest challenge is not how to survive this shift in political leadership, but how might we unify our voices and clarify our message in order to thrive during this period.

In looking for encouraging analogies as to how we might cope with these new challenges, I thought of people in the Midwest who endured the damaging floods of 1993. I was drawn to their experience for two reasons. One, was that their tenacity was fueled by a belief that what had happened affected their homes, their resources, their communities and the, regardless of what had occurred, they belonged.

Two, all of the photographs and film we saw of the men, women, and children affected by the floods displayed, in my opinion, one face. A face which reflected perseverance, courage and, more importantly, that they belonged. Those people, with sandbags and shovels in their hands, displayed a determination and unity of purpose which made the nation take notice and respond.

We must not forget that our movement is a part of any strategy to revitalize families and communities, increase employment opportunities, eliminate urban and rural blight, fight crime, prevent drug abuse and reduce violence. Any political persuasion will be hard pressed – if it is truly interested in finding solution to these problems – not to see us, too, as people with sandbags in our hands, rebuilding communities, creating jobs, solving problems, and as part of a movement which belongs.

I believe that if we clearly communicate our message, provide examples of our effectiveness, and welcome some scrutiny we can create champions for the community-based development movement among the newly elected officials in Congress. But it all starts with knowing We Belong.

Steve Gluade, Executive Director

Shelterforce is a nonprofit publication, published by the National Housing Institute. We are not beholden to a particular program, theory, approach, or constituency. We are dedicated to being useful to our readers and to fostering strong, vibrant, just, healthy places for everyone.

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