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franklin county times

Turning audacious thinking into reality

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
June 6, 2004
A couple of lifetimes ago the 1989-92 time frame I handled congressional relations duties at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the tenure of then-Secretary Jack Kemp.
Kemp, a former congressman from Buffalo, N.Y. and NFL quarterback, served at HUD in the administration of the first President Bush and often made waves with audacious thinking in fact, "audacious" was one of his favorite words and I heard it a lot at the almost weekly brown bag lunch sessions he held with his senior staff.
Stirring the political pot
Kemp, with a valuable assist from his Deputy Secretary, Al DelliBovi, who now heads the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, liked to push the envelope, challenge conventional wisdom, advance new ideas and stir the political pot. Some of his ideas, like the then-unheard of concept that tenants in public housing should have the opportunity to own their homes, were a little too far advanced for some of his former colleagues in Congress.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., was one of his most vocal critics, scoffing that public housing tenants had neither the skills nor the willingness to manage their own affairs. I always thought her attitude was condescending and evoked a mentality that I personally abhorred.
Kemp's idea was that pursuit of the great American dream of homeownership transcended race and class and could enhance the quality of life for public housing residents just as it does for other citizens.
He advocated enterprise and empowerment zones with enough incentives to attract private dollars into development of better public housing. There was no reason, he said, that public housing should be dirty, crime-ridden, boxy eyesores that forced people to live on top of each other. Such living took hope away from people for whom hope was often the last lifeline thrown from the great ship of life.
Working with Congress
One of my jobs as deputy assistant secretary for congressional relations a high-sounding title with a lot of grunt work was communicating grant announcements to congressional offices.
I was reminded of those times the other day when U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering called to tell me about a $17.3 million HUD grant awarded to the Meridian Housing Authority to rebuild a community at Victory Village.
HUD's HOPE VI program, also known as the Urban Revitalization Demonstration, was created in 1992 after a study found that thousands of public housing units in the U.S. were sorely in need of revitalization. The first grants were awarded in 1993 and, as of today, about 112,000 aging public housing units have been demolished as a result of 217 revitalization grants to 118 cities. The cost has been about $5.5 billion.
The grant awarded to Meridian for Victory Village last week will result in 113 public housing units, 74 affordable rental units, 15 market rate rental units and 40 home ownership units. It was selected from a pool of 56 applications, all of them scored competitively.
It is a testament to the tenacity of the Meridian Housing Authority and local, state and congressional officials that the Meridian Housing Authority got a HOPE VI grant after pursuing one for seven years.
It's also evidence that Kemp's basic idea obviously he was eventually joined by some other high-powered thinkers is working.
Audacious.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail bbynum@themeridianstar.com.

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