The Clinton Administration presented its plan to overhaul and consolidate federal housing programs Monday, hoping to stave off a $7-billion budget cut this year and possible elimination of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Tenants and civil-rights advocates embraced the plan and decried the budget cut, approved by the House last week, as a deliberate attack on the poor.
The proposal by HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros trims $13 billion from the agency over five years and converts its 60 main programs into three block grants--public housing, community development and affordable housing. Administrative cuts, including the elimination of 4,400 HUD jobs, would save an additional $800 million, the secretary's report said.
At the center of Cisneros' plan is a fund that would provide rent assistance directly to families in the form of vouchers they could present to landlords.
The voucher idea was greeted with criticism from congressional Republicans, who want to give local governments more control over housing programs.
"This latest incarnation of reinvention retains a fundamental, longstanding HUD flaw: HUD insists on micro-managing every neighborhood in America," said Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Banking subcommittee on housing. "There are some communities in America for whom vouchering out is not the best idea."
Cisneros unveiled the plan before about 2,000 people, including HUD workers, tenants and the formerly homeless, in an event that was part official business and part rally.
"Our fight is not about HUD. Our fight is about America's cities," Cisneros said. "The nation cannot treat entire cities as if they were disposable, as if they were rusty junk cars or used-up machinery. The cities are America too."
Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said poor people would benefit more from Cisneros' phased-in changes.
A swift elimination of HUD, she said, would add misery to families that would be dropped from the rolls of other social service programs, such as school lunches and food stamps.