HUD Secretary Opposes GOP's Public Housing Bill
By Thomas W. Lippman
A landmark bill to revamp the nation's public housing system that was overwhelmingly approved in the House last week goes too far in excluding the poorest families from eligibility "to make room for people with higher incomes," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said yesterday.
If Congress enacts the House version of the bill, Cuomo said, he will recommend that President Clinton veto it.
Cuomo's statement was issued in response to the Republicans' weekly radio address yesterday, in which the measure's chief sponsor, Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), hailed it as a "stepping stone to self-sufficiency for the working poor."
"This is a fair deal for the American taxpayer, a new opportunity for the ambitious tenant and a wake-up call for the people who thought they could count on a free ride," Lazio said.
The House vote on the measure was 293 to 132, more than enough to override a veto. Cuomo's remarks were aimed at influencing the Senate, which is considering a slightly different version more acceptable to the administration, officials said.
The bill would fundamentally revise a federal public housing program that has been in place since the Great Depression. That program was largely responsible for construction of the immense high-rise public housing projects of cities such as Chicago and Newark that have been criticized as unworkable concentrations of poor people.
Nationally, the philosophy of public housing has shifted from such dense concentrations to scattered-site, smaller facilities that integrate poor households with their communities.
Under the House bill, more units would be set aside for moderate-income households those earning up to $35,000 a year and would require able-bodied but unemployed tenants to perform community service.
The Clinton administration supports the bill's overall thrust, but Cuomo said the House version would "frustrate states' efforts to move families from welfare to work because even families who successfully make the transition to work won't earn enough to get public housing."
The current median household income in public housing is about $6,500, Cuomo said. A bill that would open public housing to families with higher incomes while failing to produce more units for those at the bottom of the income ladder would "hurt those who need our help the most, the poorest of the poor," he said.
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