he U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided to change one of its most controversial policies and will soon allow cities with populations over 500,000 to again build federally subsidized housing in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Sterling Tucker, the assistant HUD secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said a formal announcement of the new policy, ending the requirement that subsidized housing be built in largely white neighborhoods, will be made before the end of the year and that it will have a major impact on most large cities.
Before the affected cities can build housing in predominantly black areas, they will be required to prove that "they are making a serious attempt to deconcentrate" lower-income families and "provide a wider choice" of housing opportunities for them in all city neighborhoods, Tucker said.
He said proof of such an attempt could include use of federal local or private money to allow poor people to move out of traditionally impoverished areas.
Tucker said Washington probably will be one of the few cities not affected by the policy change. In the early 1970s, the city amended its zoning laws to prevent the construction of any additional subsidized apartments in Anacostia, which during the 1950s and 1960s had become a dumping ground for public housing and privately built low-cost apartments.
The change in policy at HUD has been under consideration for nearly a year, but Tucker's announcement was the first public disclosure of how the regulation will be altered.
For the last eight years, big cities have been largely forbidden from building federally subsidized housing for families earning less than $20,000 in "impacted" areas -- neighborhoods that are more than 40 percent black.
Instead, HUD at the urging of civil rights groups, required that new subsidized housing be allowed only in predominatly white city communities and the suburbs as means of forcing significant desegregation and giving lower-income blacks access to jobs and housing outside the inner city.
But suburban communities such as White Plain, N.Y. and white neighborhoods in Chicago and Philadelphia vehemently opposed subsidized housing, generally contending that it would lower property values.
HUD found itself having to deny grants for construction of subsidized housing in poor neighborhoods where it was needed, while white communities blocked subsidized housing in their neighborhoods.
As the impasse continued, whites started to return to cities, forcing the displacement of many blacks to the extent that recently some blacks, including black politicians, have joined suburbanites in asking for a change in the policy.
Tucker cited Rep. William Clay, who represents a depressed district in North St. Louis, and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who represents a similar district in Brooklyn, as two black politicians who support the change in order to prevent an erosion of their political bases. w
Chisholm was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Clay has said, "The only power base that black people have is in politics. And if we disperse that power base before we totally integrate into other power bases, we're damn fools."
The prohibition against building new subsidized housing in poor black neighborhoods was a major topic of dicussion among several black elected officials who attended the housing workshop held last month as part of the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative weekend.
But Tucker emphasized that cities must prove to HUD officials that they are making housing available to poor people in other than black neighborhoods through the use of federal of local funds before they will be allowed to build in impacted communities.
"That's the key," he told a luncheon meeting of the Potomac Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials at a Southwest Washington restaurant.
Tucker indicated that HUD also saw the policy as a way of limiting the displacement of blacks from big-city neighborhoods as these communities become fashionable addresses for whites who move in and renovate turn-of-the-century homes, thus driving up sales prices.
"We don't want to have to say to a person you have to leave your neighborhood to get a good house," Tucker said.
But he added, "We don't want to keep them trapped [in a poor neighborhood]," if they want to buy or rent housing in other parts of a metropolitan area.