[Hpn] Bush=?ISO-8859-1?B?uQ==?=s Housing Secretary Martinez Is a Great Unknown Unknown

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 06 Feb 2001 15:06:22 -0700

another news flash: after several NCH board members "process-fucked" NCH's
Executive Director search to allow ex-HUD pimp Fred Karnas to be
reconsidered (and ultimately hired) AFTER he withdrew his candidacy then
changed his mind; Fred resigned the other day (without even giving notice),
leaving NCH pretty much leaderless. (like nobody could tell)

and NCH expects us to think they treat OUR concerns seriously?
give me a break.

buckle up, the next four years is going to be a bumpy ride. but all those
service providers on NCH's board ain't going to be the ones who freeze or
starve. they're going to be laughing all the way to the bank.




Published February 7 - 13, 2001

Towers & Tenements
by J.A. Lobbia
Bush¹s Housing Secretary Martinez Is a Great Unknown
Mel Blank 

If there's one thing to be said about George W. Bush's housing secretary,
Mel Martinez, it's that he's no John Ashcroft. Unlike the gentleman from
Missouri whose nomination for attorney general spurred weeks of protest and
headlines, Martinez got about as much ink as a papermate pen, most of it
used to describe his flight from Cuba in Operation Peter Pan in 1962, at age
15. When Martinez was finally confirmed on January 24, housing advocates
across the country had sparse information about the man who will run the
Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even local housing authority
officials admit, "Nobody knows anything about him."

While Martinez's remarks during the confirmation hearings were predictable
enough for a Bush cabinet member‹he talked about "compassionate
conservatism," faith in God, and the need to run government like a
business‹his career as the chair of Florida's Orange County governing board
has been marked by some surprisingly progressive moves. In April, he ousted
the local fire chief because more than 95 percent of the top-ranking
lieutenants were white. He regularly railed against the Disney-based economy
that pays workers $7 an hour. And he irked real estate interests by calling
for a moratorium on development until schools could accommodate the
population increase. As chair of Orlando's housing authority in the 1980s,
Martinez included tenants on local boards years before HUD required it.

But don't mistake Martinez for anything but a loyal Republican close to
Florida governor Jeb Bush. "He's a little bit conflicted [about some aspects
of GOP ideology] because of his own life story, and he does seem to
genuinely believe that everyone should have a fair shot," says Scott
Maxwell, an Orlando Sentinel reporter who has covered Martinez for several
years. "But he also believes in some pretty conventional Republican things.
No handouts. Unions make him cringe. On abortion and homosexuality, he's
pretty traditional, but that conservatism is personal and does not affect
his policy making. But when party politics are on the line, he's always been
a party player. If George W. tells him to do something, Mel's not going to
say, 'Hell no!' " 

Martinez may be relatively unknown, but what New York City housing advocates
do know is that HUD-backed housing is essential and scarce. Most HUD dollars
here pay for rental vouchers and public housing run by the New York City
Housing Authority, where the waiting list holds the names of 110,000
families waiting an average of eight years for an apartment. NYCHA's 180,000
apartments across the city account for 9 percent of all units citywide, and
an even bigger percent of the city's low-income housing stock.

But congressional Republicans, in particular former congressman Rick Lazio,
imperiled that housing in a 1998 law that gives preference to the working
poor over the extremely impoverished, forbids any growth in the number of
public housing units, and requires able-bodied unemployed tenants to
"volunteer" eight hours a month or be evicted. "That sounds very much like
Mel's way of thinking," says reporter Maxwell.

Under the Bush administration, housing advocates fear further restrictions.
"There are rumblings in the Senate from people like [Senator Phil] Gramm
about the possible privatization of public housing and removing income
limits altogether," says David Jones, president of the Community Service
Society, an advocacy group for poor New Yorkers. With welfare running out
for about 37,000 New Yorkers in January 2002‹and many more to follow‹the
specter of a retreating federal housing agency is alarming, he says.

Martinez said nothing about that crisis during his January 17 confirmation
hearing before Gramm's banking and housing committee. Instead, while
promising to back programs to prevent lead poisoning and provide housing for
the homeless, seniors, and the disabled, Martinez's focus was on home
ownership through HUD mortgages, which has little use in New York City. He
repeatedly invoked his regard for partnering with "faith-based" groups and
the private sector, aping his boss's politics.

"The fact is that while he did take what was for this area a pretty brave
and contentious stand against development, Mel Martinez is well liked by the
business establishment of Orlando," says Maxwell."And he's open about the
fact that he was elevated because he is a metaphor for the great American
dream. Look at this little boy who came over on a boat and ended up being a
lawyer, buying a house. If you're looking for a rainbow cabinet, gosh, is
there a more inspiring story? He got here and saw the good Lord's way to
being a Republican."
Read more of the Voice's coverage of George W. Bush's first 100 days in

Tell us what you think. editor@villagevoice.com

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
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