HAVING READ who-knows-how-many reams of windy, repetitious and widely ignored reports on "urban problems," we don't exactly jump at the announcement of new "findings" or surveys in this field. But we can and do highly recommend a new report from hundreds of Washington's most knowledgeable people on this subject -- namely, poor residents themselves. The concerns of some 300 households in six run-down and transitional neighborhoods have been solicited and compiled in an authoriative survey entitled "SOS '78 -- Speak Out for Survival!," conducted by the Washington Urban League. The report, a follow-up to an initial survey doen by the league in 1976, deals with -- and documents -- the problems of housing, unemployment, crime, transportation, schools and public services.
As outgoing League president John E. Jacob notes about the data on housing, the findings are not entirely new. But they pinpoint the effects of displacement of low-income black and Latino families as a consequence of housing rehabilitation. For example, many residents under heavy pressures to leave their homes were not in positions to resist, since unemployment or low-paying jobs kept them from meeting demands for rent increases or purchase prices. What the survey found was that black and Latino respondents were primarily underemployed poor, severely crippled by inflation; 24 percent of the survey participants were not employed at all; and about three-fourths of this group had been jobless for more than a year.
Also noteworthy is what the report has to say about the kinds of city assistance the participants were or weren't getting. Only 12 percent of the respondents said they were receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children. More than half the heads of families ranked municipal programs "fair" to "very poor." In genral, participants outlined lives bothered not only by displacement and unemployment, but also by street crime, poor public transportation, unsafe public schools that haven't done an effective job of educating their children and municipal services that were unsatisfactory and not even used in many instances.
Reciting these attitudes and problems is one thing, of course. Doing something about them is another. Participants in the initial 1976 survey listed high prices, lack of accessible shops and the cost of housing as their most pressing problems -- and those problems haven't gone away. But the League does make some recommendations. Some are not all that specific. But even the generalizations offer a challenge to the new City Hall administration. The mayor is urged, for example, to "declare... a strong anti-displacement policy"; this would include earmarking certain neighborhoods for "the full range of favailable programs, techniques and resources" -- whatever that may be determined to be. Slightly more specifically, the report urges approval of D.C. Housing Finance Agency legislation to authorize money for low-to-moderate-income housing improvements or construction; and the opening of government-owned and absentee-owned properties.
Though the damaging effects of fnational inflation and the workings of the marketplace on rents, available housing jand other goods and fservices in this city won't be stopped by a handful of municipal programs, at least the articulation of these problems by the Urban League -- as well as its recommendations -- comes at a time when a new city administration has made much of its intention to improve housing and stem harmful effects of displacement. The tangible results will depend on the degree of follow-through at City Hall with specific, effective remedies in the months to come.