Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., on Friday lent his support to a letter written by Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp attacking an omnibus housing bill as legislation that would usher in a repetition of the "scandals" and "influence-peddling" that plagued federal-aid housing programs in the past.
"Kemp is right," Moynihan said of the letter, which urges the Senate to defeat portions of the housing bill creating a massive $2 billion-a-year block-grant program. Under the plan, introduced by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., states and localities would administer housing construction programs once handled by Washington.
"Jack Kemp is by far the most important figure in American social policy to appear in the last two decades," Moynihan said. If the legislation were "90 percent Jack Kemp and 10 percent traditional it would be a better bill," Moynihan said. "(Kemp) knows more of the same will just creates more of the same problem."
Kemp prefers a system of vouchers that will let low-income families chose their own dwellings in privately owned structures, a program of tax incentives, assistance for home ownership, and enterprise zones.
"From a conservative perspective Kemp has almost single-handedly revived the effort to address the problem of poverty in American through activist social policies," Moynihan said later in a floor speech.
Moynihan said the era in which public housing is considered "an eminent social good" ended long ago.
Meanwhile, Kemp, D'Amato and Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate's Housing Subcommittee and a co-sponsor of D'Amato's bill, met for the second time in a week on Friday to resolve their difference over the legislation. But the session ended without agreement.
A spokesman for D'Amato, who requested anonymity, maintained that the block-grant program will remain in the bill, although the sponsors may agree to some restrictions on spending.
Another Senate subcommittee aide said Kemp only wants to protect the administrative control his Department of Housing and Urban Development customarily has over new construction. "It's not whether there's new construction," the aide said, "but who controls it. It's a turf battle." Kemp, in a letter to Cranston, with copies to D'Amato and Moynihan, warned that the block-grant program, called Housing Opportunity Partnerships, "will run into troublesome, systemic scandals."
"As important as it is to pass major housing legislation this year," Kemp said, "I believe it would be a step backwards to repeat . . . past using bill
mistakes by institutionalizing profiteering and political influence at the local level."
Kemp attacked federal housing subsidies as an attraction to "political influence peddling and corruption," which have not improved living conditions for the poor. The old pattern of government-owned, or government-controlled housing, Kemp said, breeds in tenants "a feeling of powerlessness and despair that can also induce tenants to behave irresponsibly."
Worse, Kemp said, only 12 percent of the new (Housing Opportunity Partnership) units that would be built by local and state government would go to house families below the poverty line, while 20 percent would be turned over to families with the highest incomes. Kemp recommends, instead, that Congress back efforts to rehabilitate existing housing stock, aid poor families to find their own homes, and support President Bush's program that would encourage home ownership by the poor.
Moynihan said the housing programs the country traditionally ran "make no sense of any kind."
"At a point where nobody could think about housing or care about it, Kemp came along and he can do both," Moynihan said. "That enormous energy has focused itself. He knows something has to be done. He's said it has to change. And he is really trying."