A federal policy designed to "deconcentrate" the poor from inner-city neighborhoods, and move them to suburbia, is coming under fire from low-income residents here.
Under the "regional housing mobility program" of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, 22 regional planning agencies throughout the country have been invited to submit proposals which would "facilitate the movement of low-income and minority persons . . . to housing in non-concentrated areas, particularly in suburban areas."
The proposals were due yesterday, but most planning agencies, have received extensions.
Renters would be most directly affected by the program because inner-city homeowners would be less likely to move to the subsidized surburban housing called for in the mobility plan.
An objective of the program, according to HUD guidelines, is to "increase the opportunities" for poor people to move from impoverished communities to more affluent sections in the surrounding, generally white, areas.
But some low-income housing activists view the program as another effort to remove them from their neighborhoods in favor of richer whites who are eager to live near downtown.
"This will effectively destroy any political power minorities have in Philadelphia," said Henry De Bernardo, chairman of the North Central Revitalization Coalition.
"There will be no black and poor or Spanish leadership in this town."
HUD Assistant Secretary Robert C. Embry Jr. said he was "surprised to hear that. All the program does, it permits those who want to move outside the city to do so. It does not require anybody to do so. It provides the same choice middle-income people have." Embry said there have been no similar complaints against the mobility program from other cities.
Suburban reaction to the plan has been "skeptical," according to Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission officials.
Alfred Toizer, chief of housing for the Philadelphia area agency, said suburban housing authorities complain of shortages for their residents and waiting lists two years long for subsidized accommodations.
Suburban housing directors have the "standard liberal credentials," he said, and do not express racial reasons for opposing the program.
But those same directors, Toizer said, indicate the residents of suburbia are "overwhelmingly white and middle-class and working class and would find that [poor blacks moving into their communities] difficult to accept."
This effort to move minorities into suburbs is one of three major HUD programs to facilitate housing integration. The areawide housing opportunity program developed in 1976, and the "innovative grants" program are designed, at least in part, to encourage migration from cities to suburbs. In addition, requirements for HUD's community development block grants say communities should expand housing opportunities for the poor.
HUD's Section 8 rent subsidy program, for existing housing rather than new construction, would be the mechanism for implementing the mobility program. Through Section 8, low-income tenants pay no more than 25 percent of their income for rent. Federal funds make up the difference between that and the fair market rent.
The mobility program encourages the regional planning agencies to work with local public housing authorities to remove residence preference requirements, counsel low-income residents on available housing in suburban areas, conduct bus tours so the poor may see the housing and provide escort, babysitting and child care services to "directly assist" the poor in finding suburban housing.
Each agency may apply $75,000 to $150,000 yearly, depending on the size of the metropolitan area, for those and other activities. Embry said HUD has budgeted $2.2 million for the program, but more money may be added if all the proposals are worthy of funding, he said.
"It is something we are very concerned about nationwide," Embry added.
To be funded, the proposals "must strongly emphasize mobility between the region's older central city [or cities] and the suburban areas," according to the HUD guidelines. Another requirement calls for the agency to "seek the advice and counsel of the major existing civil rights and fair housing groups."
When choosing agencies for the program, HUD considered regions with the 50 largest cities, the highest percentages of blacks and Hispanics, the highest percentage difference between blacks in the central city and blacks in the suburban areas and regions where the central city has the greatest percentage of poor people. Planning agencies in New York-Newark, Norfolk and El Paso are among the 22 invited to make proposals.
De Bernardo is among a large number of the black community leaders who believe the mobility program is typical of the gap between federal policy and the desires of segments of the black community.
Integration is no longer the cure for black poverty and lack of power, De Bernardo says. Building up the low-income areas, both economically and politically, now is the direction many blacks feel their movements should take, he says.
"Federal bureaucracy has always been known for the way it lags behind present realities," De Bernardo said. "It takes about a decade for them to understand what is going on."
Embry said the program is the implementation of the department's constitutional mandate. Federal courts, he explained, have found that HUD only placed subsidized housing in poor communities, a practice the courts ruled illegal.
"The department and society in general have been under criticism for years for restricting low-income housing to the most depressed areas of the city," he said.
"All this involves is letting people decide for themselves rather than letting other people decide for them."