He has survived a firing by the President of the United States and charges of being insensitive to needs of poor tenants. He has been praised for having the courage to meet those who disagree with him.
He has been applauded for being one of the new property managers to make low and moderate income housing work - and damned by some who say he is condescending and forgets the little people who live in his buildings.
He has his fervent supporters and equally fervent detractors. He has had his share of ups and downs. But one thing is clear:
H. R. Crawford, the D. C. property manager extraordinaire who was forced to resign from his post as an assistant secretary of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development two years ago amidst allegations of wrongdoing, has the ability to bounce back.
Appointed to the HUD post in 1973 by President Nixon, Crawford was forced to pick up the pieces of a shattered life after President Ford fired him in early 1976. But today, just a year after the Justice Department closed the books on his case without finding cause for prosecution, the Crawford name is all over town.
It may be seen on signs advertising Columbia Heights Village at 14th Street and Columbia Road NW and on a 400-unit subsidized apartment complex in the heart of the riot corridor, sponsored by Change-All Souls Housing Corp, and two development companies. Crawford is executive officer for the company managing the project.
The Crawford name is on the Washington Apartment at 7th and M Streets NW, another apartment complex with moderate rents scheduled to open next spring. His name, too, is on the Kenesaw, a deteriorated building at 3060 16th St. NW, owned by Antioch College. "Crawford No!" and "We're Not Moving Out," read signs at the Kenesaw. Crawford represents the company that wants to buy and renovate the buildings.
"I'm extremely busy and very pleased with my life now," Crawford says. "I'm going about my chosen career. I still have my base - my management expertise."
His years at HUD? "I write it all off as an experience," he says, adding he is "too busy to be bitter" about the past. HUD, he said, was his sacrifice, his way of participating in the struggle for black equality, a struggle he says is "still going on."
The Crawford name isn't visible on them, but he also owns several dozen homes in some of Washington's changing neighborhoods where revitalization has begun. Crawford has lived in Washington since he was 3 years old. He attended Cardoza High School and knows the city well.
In all, Crawford estimates he is involved in management of 4,000 housing units in Washington, about 2,000 in Prince George's County, 1,000 in the Baltimore metropolitan area and 400 in Cincinnati.
A company he heads recently bought the Trinity Towers Apartments at 3023 14th Street NW. He said he is considering buying the New Amsterdam, a vacant and boarded building at 14th and Girard Streets NW that contains commercial space.
In addition, Crawford expects to announce in the next few weeks a program to help low and moderate income families. Crawford hopes to use federal, local and conventional funds to rehabilitate several homes, many now vacant. The program will provide help for some of the displaced tenants, Crawford said. Some will move back into the rehabilitated homes with no substantial increases in rent, he said.
Not all tenants in the deteriorated homes will be helped, however, because Crawford the businessman really hasn't changed that much over the years. "I'm helping those who are current in their rent, with a reasonable credit standing," Crawford emphasizes. "I'm not helping those who live in pigsties."
His philosophy has always been, he says, wagging his finger in the air: "One may be poor, but one doesn't have to be dirty."
Crawford was born almost 39 years ago on Winston-Salem, N. C. He remembers it was his grandmother who was most responsible for his "poor but clean" philosophy.
"She worked everyday in a factory in Winston-Salem that made cigarettes, sometimes 12 hours a day," Crawford said. "Everybody was poor but they were clean. She taught me that you had to be clean in body, mind, and spirit. There were no handouts.
His family moved to the Kalorama Circle area of Washington when Crawford was 3 and lived there four or five years. His father worked for the government, his mother was a domestic for an affluent white family who lived in a large house and who owned other houses on th block.
Crawford said there were few children in the neighborhood, so one of his playmates was the daughter of the rich white family. He says he became exposed at an early age to such things as English nannies and chamber music and big dining rooms at Christmas.
And he believes that if other black youths were exposed to richer and more cultured lifestyles, they, too, would be motivated to uplift themselves.
After graduating from high school and serving in the Army, Crawford became a part-time property manager in the early 1960s. At the time, he was also working at the Pentagon, attending night school at Howard University and serving as a lay teacher in the Catholic Church. Eventually, he became full-time manager of the 100-unit Congress Park apartment complex at 3600 Ely Pl. SE.
"I felt an obligation to the government and owners to maintain the buildings," Crawford recalls. "People vandalized and burlarized like they were going out for Coca-Cola.
"It's no good to populate buildings with individuals unable to respect their bodies and minds. Responsibility from the 'down and out' can be minimized by letting everybody take his share of those who don't give a damn. If you spread them out, then peer pressure may force them to rise to the level we consider basic."
Because of his reputation for being harsh with some tenants, one of the groups opposing Crawford's HUD nomination in 1973 was the National Tenants Organization. John Hampton, formerly of NTO and now director of the client services division for the D. S. Rental Accommodations Office, acknowledged that when Crawford was chose for HUD, the two men were at odds.
"But we grew to grudgingly respect each other," Hampton said, adding that Crawford willingly met with tenants and others who disagreed with him.
"He didn't jive you," Hampton said.
Hampton added that he and Crawford still disagree on many issues. "But," he said, "despite his image and bluster and his forceful way of dealing with tenants, he does have an interest in solving the problems of lower- and moderate-income housing.
"H. R. believes that the black community has problems with destructive, antisocial behavior. His philosophy is bent toward leaning on folks and contrlling them," Hampton continued. "Others do it in a more democratic way. . . "
Late in 1975 Crawford announced that he planned to leave his HUD post the following in April.
"I even had the atrium at the Kennedy Center in mind for a (farewell) party," he said, laughing.
But in January, 1976, the Ford administration fired Crawford because of charges of conflict of interest. Crawford had sought consulting contracts with housing authorities that received money from HUD.
The Justice Department closed its books on the Crawford investigation last January, saying "no futher action is contemplated at this time."
When asked about his firing from HUD, Crawford has little to say expcept to assert that "being black conditions you for those kinds of things. I write it off as experience."
He is much mor expansive, though, about why he agreed to accept the post of assistant HUD secretary for housing management when it was offered to him by th Nixon administration.
"During the civil rights marches, I never marched. I was never hosed down or struck with a cattle prod at a rally," Crawford said. "I think that as a result of all those kinds of things, I felt that I, as a black man, had an obligation. Now was my chance because I hadn't done all those things. But I was going to do it my way."
His way, he says, was to develop housing management training programs to provide youths with the kind of training he didn't get in school. He calls the federal urban homesteading program "my thing."
While at HUD, Crawford was instrumental in winning Nixon administration support for a multimillion dollar program to improve public housing projects that had fallen into disrepair. It was Crawford who also appieved the tearing down of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis - which once hosted 10,000 poor people.
The high-rise buildings at Pruitt-Igoe had become "vertical slums" notorious for crime, vandalism and inadequate services.Pictures of the buildings as they were being dynamited also became symbols for those who believe the nation's public housing program has been a failure.
The things Crawford did while at HUD creep often into his conversation now. And, too, there is his closet full of memorabilia from his HUD days - including a cover story in Jet magazine about him, and a long, complimentary article that appeared in Ebony magazine in February, 1975, with the headline "Black Man with a
Billion Budget - HUD Asst. Secretary H. R. Crawford is Nation's Biggest 'Landlord.'"
There is a bright, multiclored Indian headdress marking the occasion of his being named an honorary Cherokee; scrapbooks, including one with pictures of Crawford and his wife on the presidential yacht Sequoia; the HUD flag; certificates naming him an honorary citizen of various cities, and numerous other mementos.
Crawford now is involved less in the day-to-day direct management of properties and more in policy-making and consulting roles.
On a recent weekday, he spent most of his time in his brown, gold and beige office at Edgewood Terrace in northeast, with 34 plaques on one wall, other certificates of honor on another, and, on the wall facing his desk, a black and white sketch of the home where he was born Hazle (rhymes with dazzle) Reid Crawford in North Carolina.
On that recent day, he appeared much as a black Godfather, a pipesmoking, charismatic man who laughs frequently and heartily - and often at himself - as he listened to the requests of the many people who dropped into his Edgewood Terrace office needing favors or advice or counsel.
At 9)30 a.m., it was a visit from Iving (Duke) Johnson, who has run a shoeshine parlor at the corner of 13th and U Streets NW for 21 years. Johnson wanted Crawford's help in expanding his business. "A neighborhood entrepreneur who