Housing and Urban Development, Department of

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HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, DEPARTMENT OF. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a broad and complex mission, accomplished through a number of programs and in conjunction with such entities as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as the Federal Housing Authority. HUD coordinates and regulates housing loans under these entities, provides subsidies for public housing throughout the United States, assists in providing loans to health care facilities, and has numerous programs to assure the provision of adequate housing particularly in urban areas and to under-served populations in the United States. In addition, HUD is active in assuring the maintenance of the Fair Housing laws in federal programs, provides grants to various entities involved in providing housing, and continually adds programs in these areas.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation creating the Department of Housing and Urban Development on 9 September 1965, he envisioned that HUD would be responsible for federal participation in the thinking and planning of large urban areas and would provide a focal point for innovation and imagination related to the problems of America's growing cities. He also anticipated that HUD would strengthen the federal government's relationship with states and cities on urban issues. He hoped that the department would be able to encourage growth while retarding the decay of the expanding urban centers throughout the country. It was a vision that was originally introduced by President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 State of the Union address. In 1966, the statutory objectives of HUD were translated into the Model Cities and Metropolitan Development Act, and then in 1968 the Housing Act was passed, followed in 1970 by the Housing and Urban Development Act.

From Kennedy and Johnson's vision of the federal government's participation and cooperation in providing adequate housing and urban development that protects and promotes opportunities of diverse ethnic populations and the poorest families in the country, HUD made significant strides during its first three years. It made the Federal Housing Administration a key part of HUD's mission to develop low-income housing, initiated cross-communication between programs so that related issues could be addressed in a coordinated way, involved neighborhood groups in spearheading inner-city rehabilitation through the Model Cities program, and looked for innovative ways to fund private housing for lower-income families. Unfortunately HUD has failed to capitalize on its strong beginnings. Since the Johnson presidency, HUD has proven to be a department that has become the poor cousin within the cabinet—underfunded and racked with scandal, fraud, and abuse. Virtually all of the presidents since Johnson have disagreed with the fundamental aims and purposes for which HUD was established and have attempted to undermine both the power and prestige of the department. Even those who have supported HUD's goals have been unable to overcome its now long history of failure.

President Nixon's HUD secretary from 1969 to 1973, George Romney, actually placed a moratorium on all federal housing programs in 1973, and during Nixon's abbreviated second term, James T. Lynn, Romney's successor, oversaw HUD's decline to a second-tier position within the cabinet.

During the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, HUD was not able to overcome this reputation. Ford's administration was caught up in post-Watergate caretaking, and Jimmy Carter's administration was quickly besieged by the Iran hostage crisis that came to define his presidency. Carter's post-presidency commitment to and activist role in the nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity suggests that significant opportunities for strong presidential leadership on the issues of community renewal, fair housing, and innovative programs for financing low-income housing were missed during his administration.

In 1981, President Reagan appointed Samuel R. Pierce Jr., a New York attorney, to be the new secretary of HUD. Pierce's term—lasting the full eight years of the Reagan presidency, the longest of any HUD secretary since its inception—resulted in the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate corruption within the agency. This led ultimately to seventeen criminal convictions, including that of Pierce's former executive assistant. During the same time period, HUD's operating appropriations were cut from $24.9 billion in 1981 to $7.5 billion in 1989—with fraud and corruption taking an estimated $2 billion of the dramatically reduced funds over the eight-year period. (The criminal convictions netted $2 million in criminal fines but only returned some $10 million in squandered HUD monies.) While tainted by the gross mismanagement of the agency, Pierce himself was never charged with any of the corruption that characterized his term at HUD.

The gutting of HUD programs and the ensuing scandals made recovery for HUD in the 1990s problematic at a time when a national economic recession and the spiraling effects of inner-city decay, drugs, and gangs in public housing stretched limited resources and existing programs to the breaking point. Jack Kemp, secretary of HUD in George H. W. Bush's administration (1989–1992), had the difficult two-prong task of trying to respond to the independent counsel's investigation of the previous HUD administration while initiating a comprehensive audit and extensive reform of existing HUD programs and policies. At the same time, he was attempting to promote aggressive programs to assist those mired in the cycle of inner-city poverty and still remain true to his conservative beliefs that market-based policies provided the best long-term hope for the poor to pull themselves out of poverty. Kemp's program HOPE (Home-ownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere) was launched on 10 November 1989 and under its umbrella included programs such as enterprise zones and low-income housing tax credits for first-time home buyers. HOPE, along with a Senate initiative to generate new housing construction called HOME, were folded into the National Affordable Housing Act of 1990. Underfunding and lack of congressional support caused many of these programs to wither and die quietly on the legislative vine.

In 1993, Bill Clinton won the presidency, and with his down-home roots and populist support, particularly among African Americans, many had great hopes for a return to the Kennedy-era "Camelot" with a focus on the renewal of America's dilapidated and struggling cities where large populations of ethnic minorities were trapped. Clinton tapped Henry Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, to be the secretary of HUD. However, scandal again enveloped the secretary's office when Cisneros became the target of an independent counsel's investigation for misuse of government funds. Ultimately Cisneros was indicted on charges that he had lied about the money he had spent supporting his former girlfriend and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Despite the scandal, the Clinton administration did focus attention on the massive drug problem that had turned many public housing projects into war zones. In his 23 January 1996 State of the Union address, Clinton announced what would become HUD's "one strike and you're out" policy, with zero tolerance for drug-related activities or violence for those living in public-assisted housing. While the program had detractors, and the zero tolerance policy led to some Orwellian results, Clinton's new HUD secretary, Andrew M. Cuomo, worked with Congress to implement the program along with tightening the reins of HUD to overcome the years of mismanagement.

The twelfth secretary of Housing and Urban Development, appointed by President George W. Bush, was the first Cuban American cabinet member in U.S. history. Mel Martinez arrived from Cuba in 1962 during an airlift of children. He began life in America in a foster home, not speaking a word of English. From these humble beginnings, he assumed leadership of HUD, charged with implementing policies and programs that address the needs of some 5.4 million families. Unfortunately, by 2002, housing and urban issues had once again taken a backseat to more pressing national and international concerns, and observers thought it unlikely that HUD would become a priority in the Bush administration.


Kotlowitz, Adam. There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in America. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Nenno, Mary K. Ending the Stalemate: Moving Housing and Urban Development into the Mainstream of America's Future. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996.


M. H.Hoeflich


See alsoCity Planning ; Corruption, Political .

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