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 doorstep 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. Democratic mayoral candidate Sterling Tucker charged yesterday that the administration of Mayor Walter E. Washington "has defaulted on its obligation" to provide more and better housing in the city and predicted the voters would evict him for office "for 10 years of nonpayment."
Standing in a courtyard of the dilapidated, largely vacant Congress Park garden apartment complex in Southeast Washington, Tucker said the mayor and his housing programs "had failed and failed miserably.
"By design or callous neglect," City Council Chairman Tucker said, the Washington administration had largely ignored "the poor or near poor, the illhoused or unhoused or those afraid of losing that housing."
Tucker, pledging "to take the boards off the (city's) housing and put the windows back in," outlined a broad range of housing programs that he said he would start or expand if he is elected mayor.
He said that his highest priority for solving "one of the most critical problems in the most important city in the nation" would be to appoint a "top-flight administrator to work with the mayor to cut through the red tape which prevents housing from moving, someone who knocks heads to get things done."
In addition, Tucker said that he would try to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city through use of such things as low-interest loans to families with annual incomes of less than $16,000, outright grants to people who need money for downpayments and fuller use of existing federal grants that the city has either not applied for or not spent as fast as it could have.
In a 12-page housing position paper Tucker also promised to "streamline procedures for approving new housing," "employ realistic (housing) rehabilitation standards" that would make refurbished housing less costly and continue to support the city's rent-control program "until suitable rent supplements can be developed."
"These things can be done with enlightened leadership," Tucker said at his press conference. "Leadership should come from the mayor. I'm asking the voters of this city to give me a chance."
Tucker directed most of his attack on the city's housing shortcomings at Mayor Washington, while not sparing his other chief opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, City Council member Marion Barry.
Standing in front of the shattered windows at Congress Park and beside a half-dead sycamore tree, Tucker declared. "Congress Park is but an example of the failure of the Washington administration."
A Tucker volunteer who helped draft the housing paper, David Kunhardt, said the parts of the sprawling Congress Park project had been mostly vacant for the last 10 years, the period during which Washington has been the city's appointed or elected mayor. The development is owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but only 139 of the 396 units are currently occupied, Kunhardt said.
Barry has frequently criticized what he calls the "Washington-Tucker administration" and did so again yesterday in unveiling his own housing program.
But Tucker rejected such attachment to the mayor, even though the two [WORD ILLEGIBLE] together on the same ticket four years ago.
"Mr. Barry is either very naive or doesn't understand how government works," Tucker said, his voice rising with seeming indignation. "Mr Barry knows the (city) council cannot create a single unit of housing. Mr. Barry doesn't know about housing. Mr. Barry doesn't care about poor people."
Asked why, as council chairman, he had not helped correct more of the city's housing ills, Tucker responded: "The council can't fire anybody, can't hire, can't replace anybody.
"There's only one government and the mayor's in charge of it all," Tucker said.
Kunhardt, who works for Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D.D.C.) in addition to helping Tucker in his campaign, said that some of Tucker's housing proposals are new, some would be expanded versions of existing programs in the city and others have been tried elsewhere in the country.
He said that one way the city government could immediately expand the "urban homesteading" program under which run-down housing is sold at virtually nothing - maybe a dollar - to people who want to rehabilitate a house. The city already has done this on a very limited basis, he said.
Kunhardt said the various housing subsidy programs that Tucker is supporting would be financed partly with federal funds, although some D.C. government money would also be spent.
In addition, he said that the downpayment asistance program for low and moderate-income families, now done one a limited basis, would be expanded and partly financed from private grants from churches and community organizations. He said the goal is to create a revolving fund, financed largely by savings institutions, from which the downpayments would be financed and then repaid by the new homeowners.