President Carter's strategists are suggesting that he define his administration's urban policy as one whose first objective is "meeting emergency needs of communities and people in distress."
That means providing federal aid to help localities make up the difference between their revenues and expenditures, avoid reductions of services and tax increases, and revitalize their depressed areas, the strategists said.
It also means stimulating job opportunities for the unemployed, especially those aged 16 to 24, they said in an 11-page memo to the President.
The memo does not propose any new initiative or suggest now policy objectives should be met. But it does say that if Carter approves the principles and objectives outlined in it, he will have a basis for analyzing current programs and coming up with new ideas.
Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sent the memo to the White House Friday evening. A copy was made available to The Washington Post.
The memo, which has circulated back and forth between HUD and the White House for a week, has not been signed by Carter's domestic policy adviser, Stuart E. Eizenstat.
One source said Eizenstat and Harris had agreed on major points and that the memo would go to the President this week. However, another source said, "It's not going this year. It's going to be changed a great deal before it goes."
One official called the memo "weak" and "very vague" and said, "It still doesn't give the President a theme, a basic policy framework, or answer his question about urban problems: What works?"
This source said the document is a "peacemaking effort to bridge the gap" between White House staff members and the Urban and Regional Policy Group (URPG), a Cabinet-level task force chaired by Harris that Carter created last March to recommend a coherent urban policy.
URPG has come up with two drafts of a national urban policy (the second having been extensively revised) and is working on a third. Its recommendations, as they then stood, were summarized for Carter by White House officials Dec. 13.
Accounts of the meeting vary, but the consensus is that Carter was, according to one source, "livid." he reportedly told the aides they were offering him programs and dollar requests before determining what an urban policy should be.
White House officials were said to be unhappy with URPG's report, and URPG officials were said to be outraged at the way their recommendations were presented to Carter. "It was a piece of of s-," one officials said.
Two sources said that after the Dec. 13 meeting, an internal memo at the Office of Management and Budget said, with thinly disguised glee, that OMB's passive role in the URPG effort had been vindicated because the task force report was inadequate.
The OMB memo raised the possibility that the best solution might be to turn housing subsidies into welfare aid and create a whole new agency combining some functions of HUD and some of the Commerce Department, such as its Economic Development Administration, the sources said.
One source said the OMR memo "sent shivers down the spines" of HUD officials. Another source, however, quoted a White House officials as assuring him "there would be no reorganization proposal in 1978 that would affect HUD."
The memo that Harris sent to the White House Friday is an effort to set priorities. It says that besides meeting needs of communities and people in distress, the federal government should have the following objectives:
"Strengthening or stabilizing the private sector economic base for American cities . . .
Making cities more attractive places in which to live/work . . ." The memo calls for "curbing the deterioration" of such things as roads, waterlines and sewage systems, "improving and expanding housing stock, addressing the problem of street crime and discouraging urgan sprawl."
It adds that "revitalizing neighborhoods and providing expanded housing choices, particularly for the poor and minorities, should be key administration goals."
"Helping reduce fiscal and social disparities between cities and their suburban neighbors . . .
"Strengthening efforts to eliminate discrimination as well as institutional racism."
In emphasizing help for communities "in distress," the memo makes clear that Carter should not concentrate on aiding only the distressed cities of the Northeast and Midwest at the expense of the newer but also deterioriating cities of the South and West.
A recent study by Brookings Institution, a research-policy organization here, said 123 of the nation's 489 cities with populations exceeding 50,000 are "significantly distress" in terms of poverty, aging buildings and population loss. Of the 123, 83 are in the North and only 16 are in the South, the study said.
The urban policy memo cites the brookings study but also refers to recent Treasury Department analyses of the nation's 48 largest cities. It says that of 23 major Southern and Western cities, seven "rank in the top half of all cities studied in terms of financial distress."
An earlier draft of the memo notes that the Treasury analyses "indicates that the three cities facing the toughest fiscal problem are Cleveland, New York and Newark." But the version that went to the White House eliminates that sentence.
The memo cites as "underlying causes of the (urban) problem."
Private market forces - "economic forces over which the federal government has no control," such as changing presidential preferences that led families to move to the suburbs.
Age and density of central cities.
Federal policies such as highway development and Federal Housing Administration preference for new construction that stimulated suburban growth rather than inner-city rehabilitation.
Dispersal of federal aid so that relatively less goes to distressed cities. The memo says that while federal aid tollocalities as a percentage of local revenues has risen from 6 per cent in 1966 to 25 per cent in 1976, federal payments to the "average municipality" rose 50 per cent faster than payments to 10 major older cities between 1969 and 1975.