D.C. mayoral candidate Patricia Roberts Harris offered a seven-point program yesterday to encourage construction of low- and moderate-income housing in Washington, including a proposal to have the city's employe pension fund invest in mortgage loans for such projects.
At present, the D.C. Retirement Board, which handles pension benefits for retired teachers, police and firefighters, is prohibited by law from investing its assets in real estate ventures in the Washington metropolitan area. The board's $285.8 million portfolio consists mostly of short-term financial instruments, such as 90-day certificates.
Harris said that if elected mayor she would try to get federal law changed to permit the retirement board to invest in low-risk, high-yield mortgages.
Harris, a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), claimed yesterday that Mayor Marion Barry's housing program is a "shambles" and that Barry has missed numerous opportunties to improve housing downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods.
"The Bates Street project, the site where candidate Marion Barry announced his housing program in 1978, is only one of the better known failures of the Barry administration," Harris told reporters at Campbell Heights, 2001 15th Street NW, a home for the elderly that HUD helped to finance while Harris was secretary.
The planned renovation of 133 houses in a 12-block area around Bates Street, in the Shaw section of the city, was to be the showpiece of Barry's housing program. In a report released last week, D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe sharply criticized what he called the city housing department's wasteful handling of the long-delayed project and urged that the developers be fired.
A campaign aide to Barry disputed yesterday Harris's claim that the mayor has failed to keep his 1978 campaign commitment to improving housing in the city.
"I would simply ask Mrs. Harris how moving from 600 housing units added per year in 1978 to the current 1,500 units per year -- a 250 percent increase -- can be described as a shambles," said Lea Adams, Barry's campaign press secretary.
The points of Harris' housing and community development program:
* Stricter controls over the city's housing programs. Harris would hold an annual city-wide conference to review progess toward increasing the housing stock, she said, and would appoint a Mayor's Housing Progress Committee to meet regularly with city officials, private developers and community groups.
* A more aggressive search for federal assistance for housing programs, particularly for the elderly.
* Completion and implementation of a comprehensive city-wide development plan.
* Greater use of new technology to lower construction costs and improved use of surplus public properties, especially school buildings, for housing.
* Creation of a Housing Court to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords.
* A speed-up of city efforts to remodel some of the city's 52 public housing projects.
* More creative use of financial tools such as tax-exempt municipal revenue bonds, zoning changes to encourage mixed-use development downtown, subsidized land sales to private developers and so-called "tax-increment financing," to encourage more housing construction.
Twenty-six states have authorized cities under their jurisdiction to use tax-increment financing, a scheme by which the projected increases in property tax revenues in a development area are used to back bonds that are issued to finance project costs in the area.