Housing and Urban Development Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris promised new initiatives yesterday to help solve the nation's housing shortage and to revitalize American cities.
In a speech before the National Housing Conference, Harris said she will work for a new national housing policy that includes "a range of programs designed to provide housing assistance for low and moderate-income groups under a variety of market conditions."
Harris said housing production should be based on human need and should not be used as a counter-cyclical tool to stimulate or deflate the nation's overall economy. At present, housing production is closely tied to interest rates, which are regulated by the Federal Reserve Board to fuel or dampen the economy.
In another speech the same day before the National League of Cities, the new HUD secretary called for a "new urban partnership involving government, business and the neighborhoods as equals in the process of revitalizing American cities."
Harris said the purpose of a new $400 million urban development action grant program for especially distressed cities would "be to stimulate new and increased private investment (in the cities) while establishing private sector confidence that will protect current investment."
Harris said the $400 million would be given to cities based on the age and condition of their housing, median income levels, the rate of job loss, their tax base and "the degree to which unemployment exceeds the national average."
Other criteria, Harris said, will include the success with which a city has provided housing for low-and moderate-income families and a city's record in providing equal opportunities for minority groups.
The cities will be able to use the grants to stimulate economic development in deteriorating areas as well as to finance "revitalization" projects in neighborhoods that exhibit excessive housing abandonment or deterioration," Harris said.
In both speeches, Harris promised she will be an advocate for the poor and for cities and that HUD will become more responsive to the needs of these groups. She told the National League of Cities, a lobbying group representing nearly 15,000 municipal governments, that an office of inter-governmental affairs will be created at HUD to provide better communication with state and local officials.
In her speech before the National Housing Conference, a lobbying and research group composed of municipal officials, private builders, mortgage bankers and public housing officials, Harris said that "HUD must be more efficient and effective" in administering its housing subsidy programs.
"We must affirm, as a nation, that a decent home is a right and that adequate shelter is a basic commodity equivalent to food and clothing in the spectrum of human needs," she told the Housing Conference.
Leaders of both the national League of Cities and the Housing Conference said Harris already has won over a number of elected officials and housing industry businessmen who were skeptical of her when her appointment was announced.