[Hpn] HUD New Boss wants Flat Budget & Program Reviews. Got work? (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 24 Feb 2001 00:10:48 -0800 (PST)

If homeless people decided criteria for evaluating HUD programs, which - if any - Continuium of Care programs might survive? HUD = United States Department of "Housing and Urban Development" http://news.altavista.com/scripts/editorial.dll?ei=2395220&ern=y FWD Washington Post - 21 February 2001 HUD Looks to Its Own Housekeeping Martinez Priorities Are Management, Budget Stability By Ellen Nakashima When Andrew M. Cuomo was housing secretary, he frequently would be seen on Indian reservations in South Dakota, in the tenements of the South Bronx, and the clapboard shantytowns of Appalachia, crusading for better housing for the poor. His successor, Mel R. Martinez, has concluded in his first few weeks on the job that there's one building in particular he needs to restore: the Department of Housing and Urban Development itself. "My agenda starts with good, strong management," said Martinez, 53, who for two years was the elected chief executive of Orange County, Fla. "The Congress demands no less. . . . That's not very sexy. That's not to say that's the only thing we will do here, but the first thing is to get your house in order." Martinez has already met twice with Comptroller General David Walker, head of the General Accounting Office, to discuss the management challenges facing HUD. He credits his predecessors Cuomo and Henry Cisneros (former president Bill Clinton's two housing secretaries) and Jack Kemp (under former president George Bush) with making "significant strides" in that area, but says more needs to be done. The GAO, the congressional watchdog agency, last month removed HUD as an agency from its "high-risk" list, but retained the risk designation for its rental housing and single-family Federal Housing Administration programs. Martinez has zeroed in on one controversial Cuomo program, Community Builders, a housing assistance-community relations program. He plans to change its title and function and redeploy its staff to other tasks. He plans to freeze another Cuomo initiative, an 11th-hour program to hire 900 employees that never got off the ground. Martinez, the nation's first Cuban American Cabinet-level official, is no Cuomo. Nor does he aspire to be. He is neither as flashy, nor as steeped in policy as the scion of the famous political family. Though he is respectful of Cuomo -- "I think he had a real passion for housing . . . and defined success by the budget" -- he has signaled that he will steer a more cautious, less activist, approach. "One thing I don't want to do is reinvent HUD," he said in his first extended interview since becoming secretary. "There's been too much of that over the last several years. We need some stability. I want to find those things that are working, encourage them; find those things that need improvement and try to change those around." He said he will issue a "flat-line" budget next week with no new programs other than those President Bush put forward during his campaign. Cuomo says Martinez has his priorities wrong. Tops on his agenda, the former secretary says, should be housing. "That's why the department exists. There is an affordable housing crisis in this nation right now," Cuomo said in an interview yesterday. "[Affordable housing] vouchers don't pose a management question. Just issue them. It's a pure budget issue, which is a pure priority issue, which is a pure values issue." Like President Bush, Martinez wants to be known for his compassion. "I will try to be someone who shows a very caring heart, for people that are hurting, for people who may be homeless or in a less than desirable housing situation," he said. "I myself in my own life experienced what it's like not to have a lot, not to be in a position where you couldn't do without the help of others." Martinez was brought to the United States at 15 by the Catholic Church-based Operation Pedro Pan, spending his first days in a refugee camp, not knowing whether his parents would follow. Four years later, his parents did arrive. They got their first home with the help of a Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage. "At the end of the day," he said, "I'm going to very much focus on the core mission of HUD. . . . It can't be all things to all people. It can't be the first repository of every conceivable federal good idea, but it has to stick to its core mission." Today, home ownership is at an all-time high, due in part to the economic expansion and housing policies encouraged by the Clinton administration. But, housing advocates warn, nearly 14 million American households -- and a rising number of moderate income families -- are spending more than half their income on housing. It is a crisis that only threatens to deepen, they fear, with an economic downturn. And it's a crisis that can't be helped by the fact that HUD's rental housing programs have been designated "high risk," by the GAO, the congressional watchdog agency. HUD needs to ensure that tenants who receive help are reporting their correct income so that money is being used properly, GAO analyst Stan Czerwinski said. Martinez says he is aware of the serious need for affordable rental housing, but is reluctant to undertake new initiatives until existing programs are thoroughly reviewed to find out what works. "I'm going to ask the Congress to maybe give us a year to get some things straight, get some things right before we launch into a new production program," he said. HUD last year hired a consultant to analyze programs and manpower needs. The staff has been cut back over the past several years from 13,000 to 9,000, leaving serious disparities between skills and needs. Martinez said he plans to hire another consultant to do another study of programs, for instance, that are performing duplicate functions. He said that a few years ago, HUD had 50 programs, and that now there are about 350. The department's budget for this fiscal year is $32.4 billion, 70 percent of which is devoted to rental housing assistance. The budget Martinez plans to unveil next week is essentially unchanged in overall spending, he said, reflecting the Bush administration priority of holding government costs down. Martinez will propose some increase in "Section 8 vouchers" to help low-income families rent housing, but HUD aides said the exact amount has not been decided. Just to renew the current number of vouchers will cost $2.4 billion, they said. "The budget is going to be lean and mean," Martinez said. "There will be no draconian cuts in delivery of programs. . . . But there are going to be cuts to try to make up for that differential in the $2.4 billion increase that has to take place just to keep up with the Section 8 vouchers." Under Cuomo, HUD added new vouchers each year -- 50,000 in 1999, 60,000 last year and 79,000 for this fiscal year. Martinez wants to increase minority home ownership. He cited statistics showing that 72 percent of white households own a home, while only 45 percent to 46 percent of African Americans and about 50 percent of Asian Americans own a home. "I'm not sure we can improve a whole lot on that 72 percent, but in that 45 to 46 percent, we darn sure can do better," he said. He is also requesting money in his budget to carry out a Bush campaign promise to provide $1.7 billion of investor-based tax credits over five years to states to create affordable single-family housing. He will also "beef up" HUD's "faith-based" partnership office -- the only such program already set up in government (under Cuomo) -- to seek ways for religious charities and other groups to increase affordable housing and to assist in the creation of new faith-based offices within government. In regards to FHA's single-family homes program, GAO says HUD needs to improve lender and appraiser oversight within FHA and to better oversee contractors that handle defaults. Martinez said he is awaiting a GAO report on the health of FHA's capital fund, and he has no plans to privatize the program. While Martinez may have a lower political profile than his predecessor, Cuomo, he says he is "a people person." He addressed his employees on his first day, and last week, he ate lunch in the cafeteria, and has visited workers in the department's Seventh Street headquarters. "It's just part of what I like to do, for people to feel they have access, can reach you, touch you." 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