After lauding a recently adopted national realtors' neighborhood revitalization program, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Patricia R. Harris warned real estate professional today of possible grave social consequences of "attracting the middle-income residents back to the central city."
"We must be concerned about the negative, spillover effects of private revitalization projects which lead to involuntary sale of homes, exploitation of eminent domain powers, evictions without relocation and misinformation to owners and tenants about housing values and replacement costs," Harris said.
Then she challenged the 550,000 members of the National Association of Realtors, of whom more than 3,000 were present for her convention speech, to profitably provide "resettlement services and facilities to long-term residents of the inner city by creating market solutions to the prospects of temporary displacement of neighborhood residents undertaking the rehabilitation of their homes."
The Secretary cited "hidden resources for housing of this sort" in abandoned schools, warehouses, churches and office buildings.
"I recently visited an office building in Newark that is being rehabilitated for residential use. The developer is mixing section 8 (rental assistance housing) money with private funds to convert under-utilized office space into an attractive and marketable residential development," she said.
Harris received a warm reception from the realtors who have committed themselves to revitalizing the nation's existing housing stock, restoring neighborhoods and to provide more services and professional counseling in inner city neighborhoods.
She added, "I am convinced that your commitment is major and that your commitment is major and that you can help to establish the necessary cooperation between local governments and the private sector." She assured the private businessmen that "doing business with HUD will not drive you out of business." That statement brought applause from the realtors.
In her first major appearance before the group, which generally has opposed many federal housing programs (such as public housing and subsidized housing programs) in the past, Harris reiterated her concerns for the poor of the inner cities and the necessity for implementation of fair housing procedures.
She also left the generally politically conservative group with a specific, positive project idea. She cited a redevelopment program in Pittsburgh, where some homeowners have received payments for the right to restore the the exteriors of their houses. In turn, the owners must maintain the improvements for twenty years as repayment. Low-interest rehabilitation loans also are part of the program.
"This is a way to accomplish historical preservation without dislocation of low-income families. It could work on Capitol Hill in Washington or on Beacon Hill in Boston just as well as it does in Pittsburgh," she said.