Providing adequate housing at a reasonable price is one of the District of Columbia's most persistent problems. There are about 4,500 vacant housing units in the city and more than 7,700 families on a waiting list for public housing .
Yesterday, City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Councilman Marion Barry, two of the chief contenders for the Democratic mayoral nomination in the Sept. 12 primary, unveiled their plans for correcting the District's housing ailments .
Both Tucker and Barry laid much of the blame for the current problems at the door-step of Mayor Walter E. Washington, their major opponent in the primary race, but they also attacked each other. Tucker's and Barry's housing plans included a wide range of proposals for housing subsidies and measures to refurbish the city's deteriorating housing stock .
The mayor declined to comment on his opponents' proposals and attacks.
D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry sharply criticized his two major rivals in the mayor's race yesterday, charging that they are "content" with neighborhood deterioration, "substandard" living conditions for the city's poor and displacement of families who cannot afford to pay spiraling rents and property taxes.
In an hour-long sidewalk press conference in front of boarded-up and burned-out city-owned housing, Barry said that Mayor Walter E. Washington and Council Chairman Sterling Tucker only "pay lip service to solutions" to housing problems of low- and moderate-income city residents.
Barry pointed to the rows of nearby boarded up turn-of-the-century houses in the 100 block of Bates Street NW. noting that they had been purchased by the city over the past six years. Although most of the former residents are long gone from their former homes, renovation has not yet begun, he said.
"Right now, for places such as Bates Street," he said "the city has no comprehensive housing plan."
"The Washington-Tucker administration has moved slowly, inefficiently, and with little impact," Barry said, to provide housing for poor and working class families.
Barry said if elected mayor he would be more "aggressive" in seeking federal and private money to subsidize single-family owner-occupied housing and paying the rents of the city's low- and moderate-income wage earners. "I am committed to increasing the availability of decent, safe and affordable housing," he said.
"Let me point out that by contrast, the Washington-Tucker administration has totally abdicated its responsibility to meet the housing needs of our citizens," Barry added.
Since early spring, Barry has tried to tie his two rivals in the Democratic primary, Washington and Tucker, together as the "Washington-Tucker administration" in an effort to set himself apart.
Mayor Washington was not available for comment yesterday, but Tucker called Barry's attack on him "naive."
Tucker said Barry knows that the "council cannot create a singer housing unit" and that he, like Barry, has only one vote on the council. "Mr. Barry does not understand the dynamics of this situation, at all," Tucker added.
Barry outlined a series of new programs and proposals he said he would create to help poor, low and moderate income, the elderly, the handicapped and disabled. To qualify for assistance, a family household would have to earn $20,000 or less, he said, but single elderly and handicapped persons could qualify also.
For low-income renters, Barry said he would reorganize the city's Department of Housing and Community Development to create a cooperative and condominium conversion office. That office would seek federal aid to help groups of renters who want to purchase their apartment buildings. Barry said it is possible to get enough federal aid so that monthly notes would not be substantially greater than their current rent.
A new vacant housing office would funnel federal low-interest loans to enable poor persons to buy moderately priced houses, he said.
To help persons apply for federal and city assistance in buying homes, Barry said he would set up centers for financial counseling. He would also expand a tax deferral program for low income persons whose real estate assessments have risen sharply. He said he would also encourage the city's private financial institutuions to grant long-term low interest loans to low-income persons.