"Can it be done? -- Yes!
"Are we going about it as well a we should? -- I think so."
"But we can't do a damned thing without money!"
Thus soliloquized Edward J. Logue, the director of the South Bronx Development Office, last week, just before he took President Reagan's secretary of housing and urban development, Samuel R. Pierce, Jr., and a bus load of congressmen and local politicians on a tour of the nation's symbol of urban neglect.
When we returned two hours later, Logue observed that this was the only official tour of the South Bronx that did not stop at Charlotte Street, the place that looks like Warsaw in 1945 after the Soviets and then the Nazis got through with it.
Charlotte Street was where then-President Jimmy Carter, in October 1977, pledged federal help that never came. It was where "Fort Apache, the Bronx," a movie about urban America's grim desolation, was filmed. It was where candidate Ronald Reagan, in August 1980, got into a shouting match with angry South Bronx residents.
"I can't do a damned thing for you if I don't get elected," Reagan exploded.
Now he is president. The angry residents and everyone on the bus -- the trip had been arranged by Rep. Robert M. Garcia (D-N.Y.) -- gave the president's man a soberly friendly welcome.
There was no point dwelling on Charlotte Street, abandonment, unemplopyment, poverty and other crimes. Nor was there any point arguing Reagan's fiscal conservatism. The majority supports it.
The purpose of this tour was, in a way, a new beginning -- a beginning for the HUD secretary to convey back to Washington reality rather than cliches, images, sentiments and slogans.
Charlotte Street is one grim part of that South Bronx reality. Roughly 3,000 buildings containing roughly 50,000 apartments have been abandoned and are either boarded up or burned out.
But that does not mean that the South Bronx, with its 170,000 inhabitants, is dead or dying, let alone an unmendable hole in the U.S. taxpayers' pocket. In a few places the ruins add up to acres of rubble and litter. For the most part, however, the abandoned buildings pockmark the South Bronx's 20 square miles of real estate.
That is an area twice as large as Silver Spring, Md., one-third the size of the District of Columbia, and just about the size of Portland, Maine, with almost as many inhabitants as Boston. The South Bronx residents are predominantly Hispanic.
Like most of America's old inner cities, the South Bronx includes some charming, well-kept residential areas, many marvelous Victorian buildings, vivacious commerical streets offering Latin animation and foods, some excellent restaurants and, as I hope Secretary Pierce learned on that bus tour fierce neighborhood pride and a dogged determination to pull the community up by its proverbial bootstraps.
The straps have been designed, as it were, by Ed Logue and his South Bronx Development Office. (As every piece of paper it issues points out, the office "has been established by Mayor Koch to formulate and coordinate South Bronx programs [and] is an administrative unit in the Department of City Planning.")
Logue, however, was put into the job by the Carter White House in a fit of impatience over Big Apple dalliance. He is nationally known for his successful urban renewal of New Haven and Boston and built the New York State Urban Development Corporation for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. UDC is envied by mayors and planners as the country's most effective instrument of urban recovery.
Like the bus tour, Logue's recommendations focus on "Areas of Strength, Areas of Opportunity," as his report is entitled. Like all good action plans -- and in contrast to the obfuscating gobbledygook of most such documents -- it is plain and simple: Use public assistance only to attract "the gradual re-entry" of private enterprise and investment and use the enterprise and investment to concentrate on neighborhood stabilizationn, job creation and faith restoration.
Better than half of the revitalization program deals not with real estate but with assisting young people, strengthening family life, job training, health and social services. About 86,400 South Bronx adults are on welfare. hNearly 6,000 recent high school graduates and 18,000 dropouts are looking for work and a meaning in life.
All this has been carefully diagnosed and specific treatments have been devised. Much already has been accomplished, not by Logue or his office so much as by Logue's ability to rally the people in the neighborhoods and forge working coalitions among groups that never dreamed of working together. His footing in the grass roots has not always been sure. He can still come across as arrogant, particularly to persons of small competence.
But to the South Bronx at large, Ed Logue seem to have become the main source of energy for action.
Much of the work that Logue's office is forging into a force for effective necovery was started before it arrived. The most notable, perhaps, is the rehabilitation of large, abandoned apartment buildings by the South Bronx Community Organization, or SEBCO, led by Father Luis R. Gigante.
"Father Gigante should be cloned," Logue says.
Gigante surged like Niagara, flooding the tour bus with information, greetings, handshakes, arm-grasping, jokes in English and Spanish; the best of old-time ward heele and village priest combined. He fights, lobbies, cajoles for federal (Section 8) housing subsidies. The letter from HUD serves as equity for private bank loans with which he pays private contractors to build new homes from the old, burned-out shells.
At Banana Kelly, two large banana-curved apartment houses at Kelly and East 163rd streets, 660 units are now occupied. Nearby 500 apartment units are under construction. Five hundred are in the pipeline.
Supplementing the SEBCO effort is the "Banana Kelly" self-help organization, working entirely with sweat equity without subsidies. To date, its volunteers have fixed up and insulated 186 apartments, adding solar heat devices.
But if HUD funding ceases or is drastically reduced, "Banana Kelly" will shrivel, too.
Gigante, like Logue, readily admits that the federal Section 8 housing subsidy program is expensive. "It costs the government $7,000 to $8,000 a year for 30 years" per family, he told me. "And even at that the family still has to pay $600 a month rent." He sympathizes with the budget cutters. He thinks a lot of money was wasted in the War on Poverty. "The government intended to pay only for a year, maybe two years, to get programs started . . . well, 20 years later it's still paying for them," he said.
The tour stopped at Bathgate Avenue near the Cross Bronx Expressway where 21 acres of abandoned buildings have been cleared for an industrial park.
The Vincent Astor Foundation and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union gave the money for planning. New York City has committed $3 million. The New York Port Authority will build three new facilities. One privately financed plant is completed. With the promised $4.3 million from the federal Economic Development Administration, Bathgate will offer 5,000 jobs.
A few days ago, the Economic Development Administration pledge was withdrawn. Budget cut.
Secretary Pierce was silent, poker faced, as he left the bus to rush back to Washington. He must have been as impressed as the rest of us by South Bronx strength and opportunity.
But you can't do a damned thing without money.