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Really Show the Man Around

Jack Kemp, the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, is scheduled to visit Los Angeles today. He should take time between his scheduled appearances for some unscheduled appearances at the rundown Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, at housing being built by nonprofit developers and at some garages to visit with children forced to call them home.

As many as 40,000 Los Angeles families live in garages with no running water, toilets or sometimes even windows. An estimated 35,000 men, women--and a growing number of their children--are homeless.

Finding homes for families, as well as reducing rents for tens of thousands of others, is a major challenge, made tougher by the Reagan Administration’s drastic cuts in housing programs and by an influx of poor immigrants in large cities.

A few such sorties in Los Angeles would give Kemp ammunition for persuading President Bush to back a permanent extension of low-income housing tax credits. Created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has generated funds for an estimated 150,000 units of low-incomehousing.

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Kemp also could gather arguments for helping push for a compromise on a $4.1-billion housingpackage proposed by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Ca.), that would pay for more affordable rental housing and make home ownership a reality for more first-time buyers.

Unlike Samuel R. Pierce Jr., Kemp’s predecessor, the new HUD secretary is a bundle of energy who has traveled from Washington to look at housing programs and projects in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago and now Los Angeles. Kemp’s most important task is to expand the housing stock at the lowest end of the market, and he must come up with money to rehabilitate aging public housing like Jordan Downs in Watts.

Public housing must be made safer and more attractive. Kemp’s urban homesteading plan that would allow more tenants to manage public housing can be a major step in that direction, if it is funded adequately.

Kemp doesn’t always know the answer to such questions as how much it will cost to solve the nation’s housing problem and where the money will come from, but he knows the right question to ask in return: “What is the cost of doing nothing?” The children who live in the garages, the families who live in the worst projects, the homeless men who live on the streets can show him the cost of doing nothing.

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