Yetta M. Adams, an eccentric and meddlesome bag lady, died on a bench outside the concrete walls of the Department of Housing and Urban Development last winter. If this had been the 80’s, her death would have been cited as a consequence of budget cuts, greed, and flint-heartedness. But thanks to a friendly press and a political team skilled at spin control, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros used the occasion to grandstand for putting more cash in the government’s coffers.
In a Washington-style act of contrition, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros decried homelessness and promised an immediate $25 million in new spending. Nobody asked why the $28 billion the department spent last year did not prevent Adams’ death or why a tenth of one percent increase would make any difference now. Many people, including local family members, had tried to talk Ms. Adams into a shelter. Plenty of space was available the night she died. For reasons known only to her, she refused help.
Claiming to be grief-stricken, Mr. Cisneros pounded out an op-ed for the Washington Post that appeared a few days later. Ms. Adams’ death “is an indictment of a system” that has “failed to address” the “underlying causes” of homelessness, he said. Curing “underlying causes” is always good for a few million.
In deciding where the initial allotment of money should go, Mr. Cisneros called a meeting to which local churches running soup kitchens were not invited. Instead, the meeting was well attended by groups like the “Community for Creative Non-Violence” and the “United Planning Organization,” who, like Mr. Cisneros, use others’ misfortune to enhance the political fortunes of liberalism.
“How can I help?” Mr. Cisneros asked. Hands went up around the room. One by one, representatives made their demands. “It was like a Christmas wishlist,” said a department official who refused to give her name.”Raise your hand and it’s yours.” One recipient organization will be the National Coalition for the Homeless, whose spokesman said Mr. Cisneros “was clearly moved by the death of Yetta Adams.” He demonstrated his charity, as liberals do, by generously spending other people’s money.
What remains of S25 million will be similarly distributed around the country, going to nonprofit groups engaged in “community organizing” as part of their “help.” These groups, who don’t hide their political agenda, already receive big bucks from HUD’s coffers and have for many years. The Clinton administration staffed the department directly from their ranks, so their employees get the money coming and going.
One fine example is Mr. Andrew Cuomo, assistant secretary for “community planning.” He first made a name for himself as a ruthless strategist for his father’s New York gubernatorial campaigns. Then, to soften his image and develop liberal credentials, young Andrew started a firm that built housing for the “poor” with corporate and government underwriting. Predictably, his housing was erected in hostile communities.
Mr. Cuomo has long campaigned for “privatizing” housing programs, but not by selling off public housing to the highest bidder. That might actually save money. Instead, he wants to “contract out” department services by giving cash directly to leftist nonprofit groups. In this way, the money becomes highpower fuel for statist causes. Thomas J. DiLorenzo and James T. Bennett wrote a book on such nonprofit graft called Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics.
Privatization or not, HUD always pretends it is starved for money. No matter how many tax dollars are shoveled in its front doors—or how much its spending sucks the economy dry—it is never enough. For example, the Washington Post recently called HUD “one of the smallest federal departments.”
Let’s see. When President Johnson left office, HUD’s budget was $3.7 billion, and by President Carter’s last year, it had more than tripled. President Reagan was vilified for “cutting” the budget, but the data show a 28 percent increase, from $14.8 billion to $19 billion. The department boomed another 40 percent under Jack Kemp’s leadership, and with President Clinton’s ambitions, Mr. Cisneros may yet beat Kemp’s recordsetting spending increases.
This spending flurry came as the department’s inspector general released a semiannual review, which reported bad bookkeeping, missing money, and sloppy management. It is a familiar litany, ten years running, but with one difference. The IG’s office could not comment on past reports of shaky finances since HUD hadn’t even filed the proper statements to make an investigation possible.
Commenting on the report, Cisneros said that “we have made some important first steps” and promised “improvements” down the road. That’s just what his predecessor said. Mr. Cisneros can now put off serious changes until he is out of office. While on the speakers’ circuit, he can tell the sad story of Yetta Adams and continue calling for more socialism.