A long-simmering conflict between Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Bob Traxler (D-Mich.) and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp threatened yesterday to mar Kemp's plans for the first sale of public housing units to tenants.
Mikulski and Traxler, who chair Senate and House HUD Appropriations subcommittees, have refused to grant HUD permission for 464 housing certificates that would provide transitional financial assistance for the new homeowners at the Kenilworth-Parkside development in Southeast Washington.
Last night, a senior HUD official said Traxler called Kemp to assure him that funding he asked for would be granted. Mikulski aides could not be reached for comment.
In a separate debate about the department's budget, the Senate subcommittee's final bill on HUD and Veterans' Administration funding eliminates HUD's Office of Public Affairs and slashes the department's travel budget. The offices of Kemp and his undersecretary, Alfred A. DelliBovi, in particular, are limited to spending no more than $100,000 for travel.
Kenilworth-Parkside has been the centerpiece of Kemp's dogged attempts to experiment with tenant management and ownership of public housing. But during the past seven months, the two subcommittees have refused Kemp the money HUD says it needs, roughly $18 million, to get the project started.
Kemp, tenant activist Kimi Gray and Mayor Marion Barry are scheduled to be present for a Kenilworth-Parkside ceremony today. But HUD officials had fretted earlier that they have not been able to allot money for homeowners' assistance that the sales contracts call for. HUD had hoped to transfer $18 million from a headquarters reserve account for housing certificates. The Appropriations committees, however, said that HUD has spent the money set aside for that purpose.
And in a letter sent to Kemp yesterday, Mikulski and Traxler expressed reservations about the entire concept of private ownership of public housing.
"Rather than deplete a needed housing stock, it would make more sense to utilize properties in the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Resolution Trust Corporation inventories to expand homeownership opportunities," they wrote.
An aide to Mikulski, speaking before Traxler's phone call to Kemp, said the committee has always had the right to refuse an agency's request to shift funds from one account to another. The transfer of Kenilworth-Parkside to tenant management and ownership has cost the government about $75,000 for each of the project's 464 units.
Although the chance for a 1990 appropriation expires Sunday, an aide to Mikulski said that Kemp's concerns will be addressed in the 1991 budget. "The point here is, that if we had a budget summit agreement, our appropriations bill could be taken up on the Senate floor, passed, and the last remaining piece would be in place," the aide said.
In yesterday's letter, Mikulski and Traxler said they intend to "honor the commitment for Kenilworth-Parkside."
It was less clear, however, why Mikulski moved against HUD's public affairs and travel budgets. Her aide said the cuts were made in the spirit of the fear of employee furloughs facing the government next week. The public affairs function "wasn't related to direct program activity," the aide said.
The committee, however, has recommended a $5 million appropriation for the Points of Light Initiative Foundation.