D.C. City Council Member H. R. Crawford keeps two bricks in his District Building office, one from the crime-ridden Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis and the other from Sky Towers in Southeast Washington. Crawford had both tenements razed when he was assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1973 to 1975.
Now Crawford wants to add four more bricks by drawing on his HUD experience to implement a similar plan here. He wants to level some public housing units in four separate projects east of the Anocostia River: the Richardson, Lincoln Heights, East Capitol Dwellings and Deanwood Gardens complexes.He proposes dispersing the families around the city and building new housing for persons who meet his strict requirements.
Crawfofd is following through on his idea of helping the poor by scattering them around the city. He is convinced the old way of cramping poor people together in large complexes produces crime, unemployment and despair.
After a relatively uneventful first six months on the council, Crawford has now taken the offensive and is attempting to define a role for himself as the council's public housing expert. In so doing, he is staking out an image for himself, on a council dominated by old-line liberals, as a new breed of black politician in City Hall, tied more to his own self-help philosophy than to the typical liberal solutions.
That bootstrap creed may not play well with old-school liberals -- who are already criticizing his housing proposal -- but Crawford may touch a responsive chord among Washington's hardworking middle-class black community.
After a period of quiet, he has indicated a readiness to take the initiative with new and potentially controversial proposals for dealing with the city's deteriorating housing.
"This plan is a combination of all of the things I did at HUD," said Crawford, emphasizing that he still has to formulate specifics. But Crawford realizes his ideas are cutting against the traditional thinking about how best to help the poor. "I also have a lot of persuading to do," he said.
This plan would require approval from HUD, now once again in Republican hands and where Crawford maintains he has friends and contacts left over from the days when he ran the nation's public housing. He may find more than a few receptive ears in the Reagan housing department which is already rethinking the entire national publc housing policy through a presidential study commission while looking for ways to cut costs.
Crawford's creed -- which he has often said comes from his own upbringing -- may sit well an administration dedicated to getting the federal government out of the social work business. Crawford said he is interested in developing self-respect among the poor. The Reagan administration is interested in saving money in public housing. The two may find a common ground.
Crawford said he already has started on his new housing offensive.While council attention last week was focused on a controversial provision of a new sexual assault bill, Crawford said he successfully got council approval to designate the Marshall Heights section of his ward a target area for federal community development funds. That qualifies the neighborhood for $75,000 in rehabilitation money, an amount Crawford said is small, but a start.
Crawford's background -- as a former federal official and successful businessman -- is unusual for the council, whose members traditionally have come from civil rights organizations, social advocacy groups or the pulpits. Also, his inroads into the federal bureaucracy and the Republican administration give him a different kind of clout -- the kind some persons say has been missing from the council.
Asked if he has contacts in HUD now, Crawford replied, "Oh, heavens, yes! I was appointed by the Republicans. I would certainly hope that my experience there helps."
"He's got to have some of his contacts left," said Terry Chisholm, director of the Washington, D.C., area office of HUD. Chisholm said he will be meeting with Crawford to discuss his proposal, but will reserve comment until Crawford comes up with specifics.
"We need to talk about relocation (and) relocation assistance," Chisholm said. "The magnitude of what he's talking about appears to be unusual."
Crawford's proposal is his first major independent initiative after a routine half year in office devoted mostly to constituent concerns and leaning the job of council member and team player. After a gala inauguaral ceremony, Crawford had slipped quietly and without fanfare into the obscure role of junior council member.
He has introduced only five pieces of legislation, three of them to deal with very specific complaints from his Ward 7 constituents. He rarely speaks out at council meetings and in private often expresses annoyance that so much meeting time is taken up with routine business like closing alleys.
The few times he does speak out, it is usually in defense of the working class residents of his ward.
In the first package of bills he introduced, one would provide senior citizens with a discount on taxicab rides, another would stiffen penalties for cab drivers who refuse to take customers to any area of the city, and a third would provide property tax relief for Ward 7 residents who live around an unsightly garbage dump at Austin and 28th streets in Southeast Washington owned by Andrew God, who has refused to clean it up.
But with his new public housing initiative, Crawford has come out swinging in the area he feels he knows better than anything else -- housing. It will be the first major test of whether Crawford can translate his ideas, experience and clout into any real results.