Housing project tenants tell Cisneros of guns, drugs, shoddy maintenance

August 17, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros held a town meeting in the shady courtyard of a public housing development here yesterday to promote congressional reforms that include rent ceilings to encourage employment for public housing tenants and a proposed $265 million anti-crime program.

Mr. Cisneros, with rolled-up sleeves and a wireless microphone, moderated the 1 1/2 -hour meeting with 11 HUD tenants and their children drawn from Baltimore and other major U.S. cities.

Most residents talked about the issues that face them every day in public housing -- violent crime, drug dealing, lack of government-sponsored recreational programs for children and shoddy building maintenance.

"My kids hear gunshots and there is drug dealing like bees around honey," said Simon Sneed, a resident of Poe Homes, a low-rise development in the Lexington Terrace development in West Baltimore, who was driven to Washington in a government van along with his wife and three young sons.

"Kids need to have role models -- if they are going to get high, they need to get high on education," added Lillian Sneed, Mr. Sneed's wife.

Mr. Cisneros said the purpose of the town meeting was to start a dialogue "with the taxpayers" on housing policies, which he said had suffered greatly during the Reagan-Bush era.

He labeled as top priorities cleaning up decrepit public housing developments, introducing government programs for educational and employment opportunities for residents and a $3 million HUD grant to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for drug prevention.

The secretary also is pushing legislation that would stall for 18 months a rent increase for public housing tenants who get a job.

Currently, 30 percent of a tenant's income goes toward rent -- a policy that penalizes some tenants like Chicago public housing resident Pat Perry who told Mr. Cisneros that her rent jumped from $63 a month to $742 after she got a job.

HUD is also requesting $265 million for an anti-crime package that includes community policing programs in 1994 and $100 million to relocate families from blighted developments to housing in areas where poverty is "less extensive."

"It's either pay me now or pay me later. Let's not write off millions of people," Mr. Cisneros said. "Unfortunately, many Americans have given up on public housing, they see it as a focal point of community crime and grime. They would like to wave a magic wand and wish public housing away."

Diana Garcia, a single mother of three who lives in Baltimore's O'Donnell Heights housing development, agreed that HUD needs to refocus its priorities.

"You have to call 10 times in order for maintenance workers to help you," she said.

"We also need job training, peer support and mentoring. Children have too much idle time."

Added Ruth Hayes, a mother of three who lives in Philadelphia's Bartram Village development, "I have received threatening phone calls because I tried to stop the drugs and to help the youth keep together. Our children are the future. I'm trying to save the youth of today."

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