Bumper Hornberger is "honked off."
So honked off that he collected $6,615 from his family and friends to buy a half-page ad in The Washington Post to ask a question:
"Why is Laredo, Texas, thanking American taxpayers for a $1,000,000 gift?"
"It all started last September," Hornberger explained on the telephone yesterday. That's when the Department of Housing and Urban Development decided to build a low-income housing project in Laredo.
There were two bids. One was in south Laredo for $4.8 million and the other was in north Laredo for $5.8 million.
Naturally, says Hornberger, the federal government took the expensive one.
That was nine months, many meetings and a lawsuit ago, says Hornberger. Despite letters to Congress, the White House and just about every presidential candidate, the government is preparing to sign a contract with the high bidder.
So Bumper - "that's it, Bumper," he says when asked his name - bought his ad.
Hornberger says opposition to the housing project is based on waste. He insisted it has nothing to do with the fact that last year he bought a $58,000 house in the same neighborhood where HUD now wants to put a low-income houing project.
"We're all poor down here," he said. "We're the poorest city in the United States. At least that's what the federal government says, if you can believe them."
Nor is it a racial issue."We're pretty much all Mexicans here. If we're not Mexicans, we're half-breeds." Is Hornberger Mexican? "Half," he answered.
HUD officials who collided with Bumper at the breakfast table were ready when the reporters began calling.
"The ad is way off when it says it will cost $1 million more," replied HUD public affairs officer Bill Wise. HUD has only $4.6 million to spend on the project and both the bidders exceeded that, knowing they would have to negotiate with the government, he said.
"There are different negotiating strategies," Wise said. He explained that the high bidder alreay has trimmed more than $300,000 from the land cost for the project and will have to pare some more before he gets the job.
Wise admitted that HUD officials in the San Antonio regional office overruled the Laredo Public Housing Authority, which favored the cheaper south Laredo site.
HUD uses a scoring system to evaluate bids and the way Laredo officials figured it, the numbers favored the cheaper project offered by the Alfred P. Hughes Corp. of Round Rock, Tex., Wise said. But when HUD added up the score, he continued, the winner was Hunt Building Corp. of EL Paso, by 61 to 57.
"Our people evaluated the situation and came up with a different bottom line," said Wise. "When we explained the reason to the PHA they agreed with us."
Hornberger sees it differently: "When the city hesitated, the area director (of HUD) threatened a termination of the housing project. Rather than make waves, the city officials complied."
Wise said that HUD's evaluation process gives additional points for integrating public housing into the community economically and ethnically.
He noted that Hornberger's father is the lawyer for a local school district that has sought to stop the housing project by suing "everybody in the country." The HUD spokesman said the school district fears an influx of students whose parents would not be paying property taxes to support the schools.
Laredo has 2,000 people on a waiting list to get into public housing, Wise said, and the planned 146-unit project will be the first built in the city since 1973.
Hornberger admitted that he is "against all that federalism." He said he opposes public housing in principle because "you do more damage to poor people putting them in these projects where the federal government controls their lives."