WASHINGTON – Devon Wilford has lived at the Latrobe Homes, a low-rise housing development in East Baltimore, since 1968. She knows her neighbors, serves as president of the local tenant council, and volunteers for other community organizations.
Now she is worried she may have to move.
Wilford fears a Clinton administration proposal to cut staff and programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development could disrupt her community, especially if her project is sold to a private developer.
The administration proposal, outlined by Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, would save money by consolidating 60 programs into three large funds, including one that would provide direct rental vouchers to low-income people.
The department would also save money by demolishing distressed public housing; reducing the number of properties eligible for subsidies, and renewing public housing subsidies for only two years, instead of longer periods.
Department officials say the plan would provide more flexibility for state and local communities to administer aid.
“It will give residents more choice. It will impose more market discipline on owners and public housing authorities and will give local officials and neighborhood advocates more control over what strategies are used at a local level,” said Bruce Katz, Cisneros’ chief of staff.
But low-income housing advocates say moving to a voucher system would disrupt existing neighborhoods.
“We’re encouraging abandonment of public housing projects through the withdrawal of long-term renewal funds,” said Deborah Austin, director of policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“I think the voucher system stinks,” said Wilford. “Families are going to be left out in the cold. They could be homeless.”
Five million families now receive $25 billion in aid from HUD each year. This aid covers only 20 percent of those who need assistance, said Robert J. Adams, president of the coalition.
“Housing needs are huge,” he said. “They didn’t change with the elections in November.”
State housing officials say the reorganization plan has some merit.
“It many ways it would be helpful,” said John Greiner, policy officer at the state Department of Housing and Community Development. “HUD is a difficult bureaucracy to work with. If the reorganization makes it easier, that’s good.”
HUD officials say the reorganization will improve service, not curtail it. “This proposal, if funded at the levels we recommend in our budget, will actually serve beneficiaries better than the current programs,” said Katz.
But no one is sure how much aid will be available. “The concern is, what happens to the money and how much they’re going to cut,” Greiner said.
And public housing recipients fear for their homes.
“There’s no stability to the program,” said Wilford. “The government can cut it at any time. If the state takes over, they’re not going to be sensitive to the needs of the poor, either. “Then where are the poor going to be?” she asked. -30-