NAACP Told HUD Won’t Scrap Programs Because of Scandal : Kemp Vows More Aid for the Poor
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp pledged here Monday that the widening scandal now plaguing his department will not be “used as an excuse” by the Bush Administration to permanently shut down the department’s programs aimed at helping America’s poor and homeless.
In a sometimes emotional speech to the 80th annual convention of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People--a major constituency group for HUD--Kemp insisted that he is committed to mounting new initiatives in the nation’s inner cities, even though he has already been forced to suspend three HUD programs because of evidence of fraud.
“We are going to reform HUD from top to bottom,” Kemp said. “We are going to make our programs work for the people in need, not those motivated by greed.”
Kemp later told reporters, however, that “there’s no secret that it will take time (to reopen programs already suspended) and that other programs need reform. I don’t want our money going for swimming pools. My pledge has been not to use the problems as an excuse to close down the department.”
Kemp’s speech was well received by NAACP leaders, but some cautioned that they are not yet convinced that the Bush Administration is committed to more affordable housing in the nation’s inner cities.
“We still haven’t really heard a clear statement from the Bush Administration on the need to build more low-income housing units in this country,” complained Earl Schinhoster, the NAACP’s Southeast regional director.
In fact, Kemp offered little in the way of new proposals aimed at tackling the nation’s housing crisis. He pushed for the creation of “enterprise zones” in inner cities--an idea that he first proposed during his failed presidential campaign last year. He also endorsed President Bush’s controversial plan to cut the capital gains tax, which Kemp contended would encourage more lending to minority-owned businesses.
“The secret to creating black employees,” Kemp said, “is to create black employers.”
But Kemp also stressed a need for new thinking by the Bush Administration and the Republican Party in the way both deal with the inner city and the black community.
The GOP should return to its radical anti-slavery roots, he said. “I look forward to the day when there is a radical Republican Party that is competing effectively for the votes of Afro-Americans,” Kemp said to wide applause.
NAACP Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks agreed with Kemp that blacks must demand more from the Republican Party. “We have to keep the idea alive in the black community that if Democrats take us for granted, then we aren’t going to make progress,” Hooks said.
Meantime, a House subcommittee that has taken the lead in exposing misconduct at HUD planned to hear Kemp testify on Capitol Hill today for the first time since the scandal broke.
Kemp will appear this afternoon before the House government operations subcommittee on employment and housing and was also scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House banking subcommittee, which has responsibility for housing legislation.
Two women who formerly held top posts at HUD were invited to testify Friday before the House subcommittee headed by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo). They are former Federal Housing Commissioner Shirley McVay Wiseman and Janet Hale, former deputy assistant secretary of housing.
Wiseman has said that former HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. ordered her to OK a Durham, N.C., apartment project, which was backed by one of his former law partners, Charles B. Markham, former Republican mayor of the city, and by Louis Kitchin, a key GOP strategist in the South for Ronald Reagan’s two presidential campaigns. Wiseman said she left HUD shortly after refusing to approve the project. Hale later approved the Durham proposal over the objections of HUD staff analysts.
The subcommittee also is trying to arrange a date for additional testimony from Pierce, according to staff director Stuart A. Weisberg, who added: “The chairman would like to have him back as soon as possible.”
Next week, Weisberg added, the panel plans to call Paul J. Manafort, a key adviser in Bush’s presidential campaign, and Manafort’s business partner, Victor Cruse, to discuss how their firm got HUD approval for a controversial federal subsidy for a rehabilitation project in Seabrook, N.J. Manafort has acknowledged that his role amounted to “influence peddling.”
Staff writer William Eaton in Washington contributed to this story.