A group of urban students and elected officials went before a House subcommittee yesterday to deny allegations that cities are doing well.
Years of effort to draw public attention to the urban crisis are in danger of being wasted because of recent media articles saying cities aren't as bad off as they are thought to be, the city advocates told the House subcommittee on fiscal and intergovernmental policy.
"Conditions in the majority of our large central cities are such that, for too many, the good life is still an elusive goal," said Robert C. Embry Jr., assistant secretary for community planning and development in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"Recent news reports have stated that cities now find themselves with more revenues than they know how to spend.... [But] fiscal strain has not vanished, and many cities find themselves unable to provide even conventional services, much less funds for maintenance and repairs to streets," Embry said.
Much ado about nothing? Not according to Rep. William S. Green (R-N.Y.) and others answering in the negative yesterday on the subject, "Is the Urban Crisis Over?"
An affirmative answer to that question could lead to the painful, premature withdrawal of massive doses of federal aid to the nation's cities, Green said.
Already, the New York City congressman said, President Carter is proposing cuts of 25 percent to 40 percent in "the housing programs that our older cities so desperately need."
"I do not suggest that the president has orchestrated... public misconception on the crisis facing our cities. However, I do say that the lack of administration zeal for discussing these problems has lent credence to reports that the crisis is over," Green said.
Green cited several studies supporting his contention that, contrary to some reports, middle-class families are still leaving cities in increasing numbers. He said U.S. Census Bureau reports show that, between 1970 and 1977, central city populations declined nationwide by 5 percent, while suburban populations across the country increased by 12 percent during the same period.
"No one could review these trends and arrive at the conclusion that the urban crisis is over," Green said. He added that, "In view of the administration's failure to develop an effective overall urban policy, the role of the Congress in the formulation of such a policy must be all the greater."
Embry, the administration representative who seemed to be placed in the uncomfortable role of siding with the administration's detractors, said state and local governments accumulated a healthy, aggregate $29 billion surplus in 1977. But he said it is probable that the cities received less than 20 percent of that amount.