A New York congressman said this week he will ask Congress to pass legislation requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development to convert three floors of its massive Washington headquarters building into a shelter for the homeless.
"It would be the most HUD has done for the homeless since President Reagan came to Washington," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer, (D-N.Y.). The department's budget for housing and community development has been cut by about 70 percent since 1980. Many low-income housing programs have been halted or scaled back.
Schumer, who serves on the housing subcommittee of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs committee and is cochairman of the House Budget Committee's task force on homelessness, said he will introduce the bill as soon as Congress convenes on Monday. The legislation "will make the point" that cuts in low-income housing assistance are responsible for increases in the number of homeless Americans, he said.
HUD's staff has been cut by almost one-third since 1980, so officials "shouldn't complain about giving one-third of their headquarters to the homeless," Schumer said.
The agency reacted angrily.
"We regret Congressman Schumer's unwarranted attack on hard-working HUD employees and we find it difficult to believe that his counterproductive legislation would do anything other than trivialize the complex and serious problem of the homeless," said Robert Nipp, a spokesman for the department.
Empty space in HUD headquarters caused by employee cutbacks over the past seven years has been filled by workers and supplies moved out of eight other buildings in the Washington area, Nipp said. The Southwest Washington headquarters "is absolutely jammed" now, he said.
The agency is providing rental assistance to 4.2 million families, a million more than the previous administration, Nipp said. Critics say the vouchers and certificates given families to rent privately owned apartments are ineffective in such cities as New York where there is a shortage of moderately priced housing.