The Bush administration is keeping a tight rein on Department of Housing and Urban Development spending in 1992, so Secretary Jack Kemp has decided to dip into money Congress designated for public housing and other programs to get the funds for his favorite initiatives, including "empowerment" of the poor.
The department's $25.5 billion request for 1992 is down slightly from last year's budget. It calls for spending $18.4 billion on housing, a 5.7 percent increase over 1991, but reorders priorities.
No funds were requested for construction of new public and Indian housing in 1992 but HUD would like to spend $9.1 billion to help more than 150,000 low-income families rent privately owned apartments and homes. This number includes 83,680 more units than were funded last year.
The administration believes low-income renters are better served by vouchers and certificates that help them pay rent.
HOPE and HOME, created by the National Affordable Housing Act passed last fall, are the new housing programs getting the most attention in the budget. The administration requested $1 billion for HOME and $855 million for HOPE in 1992.
HOPE, short for Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere, is the administration-backed initiative to help public housing residents and other low-income people buy homes. HUD estimates that 25,000 families or individuals will be able to purchase apartments or houses in the next two years. The department proposes to allow many public housing tenants to buy units they live in now.
Other families will be able to purchase single-family homes and units in apartment buildings that were acquired by the government after owners defaulted on HUD-insured mortgages, according to HUD.
The HOME Investment Partnerships Block Grant Program, initiated in Congress, will give local governments money to buy, build or rehabilitate rental housing for the poor.
Local officials must provide matching funds of 25 percent to 50 percent of the federal grants, depending on how the money is used.
In a controversial move, HUD proposes to transfer $918 million from the fiscal 1991 budget to launch HOPE and HOME this year. HOPE would get $165 million that Congress intended for several smaller housing assistance programs.
HOME would get $500 million, through a move of half the money provided in the 1991 budget for construction of new public housing units. The remaining $253 million would go to a new program for the homeless and rental assistance for the poor.
Other new budget requests include nearly $2.3 billion for rehabilitating public housing units, and $2.1 billion to operate public housing and Indian housing agencies. Kemp would use some of this money to keep his promise to "take the boards off" 100,000 units of public housing.
Programs for the homeless would get $535.7 million, and an additional $20 million would go to mental health and substance abuse efforts. Rental aid for residents of rural areas would be cut back, funding housing for 8,000 fewer families.
Despite the tight purse strings, Kemp said the budget "signals a bold new direction for housing policy" and a commitment "to make a radical break with the failed programs of the past . . . . We must give low-income people access to capital, property and the same rights as others."
He angered some members of Congress and housing advocates, however, with the proposal to divert immediately 1991 appropriations into the new programs.
House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) called the budget "a sneak attack" that proposes maximum funding for the administration's "pet housing programs while slashing vitally needed low-income housing efforts."
Gonzalez said Congress "worked closely with the administration" to enact a housing bill all sides could support, and he regards the budget proposals as "the grossest kind of bad faith."
A Senate staff member predicted that HUD's budget will encounter stiff opposition in Congress. "It's going to be a major struggle for a long time," said W. Donald Campbell, staff director for the housing and urban affairs subcommittee of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
In a proposal apart from the HUD budget, the Bush administration would establish a $15 billion block grant that would be channeled to states. The state governments would be free to use the money in any way.
Funds for several housing programs requested in the HUD budget would be moved into this larger block grant, including $2.9 billion requested for Community Development Block Grants, $165 million to fight drugs in public housing, $153 million for elderly housing and $53 million for rehabilitating rental housing.