The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved a measure requiring Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp to report to Congress in six months on the progress the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is making on Kemp's order that it desegregate its housing projects.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., calls on Kemp to determine whether the authority's federal subsidies should be cut or if the authority should be placed under a court-appointed receiver until it is desegregated.
In a Senate floor speech, Moynihan said the failure of Lawrence Grisanti, the housing authority's executive director, to appear at his June 9 informational hearing in Buffalo was "an almost willful act of indifference to the questions that were being raised about contravention of law."
Referring to Grisanti's snub of the hearing, Moynihan told the Senate, "I do not suggest bad faith." But he said it presents an image of an authority that does not respond to problems the way it should.
Mayor Griffin, whose appointees control the authority, last week called Moynihan's hearing into the housing authority's segregation problems "a kangaroo court."
Moynihan's surprise amendment to the $17.6 billion omnibus Housing Act had the backing of Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee's housing and urban affairs subcommittee, who is managing the legislation.
The Republican co-manager was Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., the ranking minority member and considered a friend of Griffin's. D'Amato could have blocked Moynihan's amendment but didn't.
Instead, D'Amato praised Moynihan for his "continuing interest in this situation, in the plight of the housing and more particularly, the people of Buffalo, as it relates to this situation."
"I am proud to join with him in his efforts," D'Amato said of Moynihan, "and his . . . attempt to ameliorate this situation that should not be allowed to just continue to fester."
The Moynihan amendment has to survive a House-Senate conference on the 1990 housing reauthorization bill. But having been unanimously approved in the Senate, it has a high probability of becoming law.
Calling for an investigation into a local public agency in a bill is considered unusual. Ordinarily, such requests are placed in committee reports accompanying the legislation.
The Moynihan amendment calls on Kemp to report back to Congress six months after passage of the housing reauthorization bill on how to deal with the authority, which was described by Moynihan as "a segregated institution."
When the 1990 reauthorization is passed, Moynihan said, Kemp will have new powers to place troubled housing authorities under private management or a court-appointed receiver.
The U.S. General Accounting Office, Moynihan said, found a 28 percent vacancy rate in the authority's buildings -- four times the national average.
"Secretary Kemp knows this amendment is being offered," Moynihan said. "He shares this concern. He has already found the authority in violation of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," which bars racial discrimination in tenant placement.
On April 25, 1989, Kemp wrote to the authority that "Buffalo's practices since 1985 have not been sufficient to correct past violations.
"Two-thirds of the authority's 27 projects are highly segregated, with 11 developments more than 90 percent minority and another eight more than 90 percent white," Kemp said last year.
George K. Arthur, president of the Buffalo Common Council, and Ellicott Council Member James Pitts have voiced dissatisfaction over lack of progress in desegregating the projects.
Kemp, during a news briefing at the White House last week, said he would resist placing the authority under receivership, saying he would prefer to work out a local solution to the authority's problems.