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The Color of Money

Day two, article four

Activists picket residence of HUD secretary

Angry over cuts in housing funds,
they yell, `Retire!'

By Bill Dedman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published May 2, 1988, Page A6

Copyright 1988, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WASHINGTON -- Chanting "Sam the sham, the dud at HUD," 300 poor and minority protesters invaded the high-rise condominium building of U.S. Housing Secretary Samuel Pierce on Sunday afternoon.

The community activists, from the coalition National People's Action, were protesting the Reagan administration's funding cuts in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A dozen of the protesters came from Atlanta, mostly from minority neighborhoods on the inner-city Southside.

The group, including many elderly women, arrived at the Cabinet official's building in northwest Washington on school buses, marched whistling and chanting past a befuddled doorman, and asked the desk clerk for Pierce's apartment number. The clerk told them -- 1308 -- and the crowd flowed up the stairs and elevators.

They crammed into the hallway outside the apartment for 20 minutes, banging on the door and shouting, "We Want Sam now" and "Sam, don't wait! Retire in '88!"

Pierce did not open the door. His neighbors said he probably was out of town. His telephone number is not published.

Under his door -- and every other door in the building -- the protesters stuffed a flyer with Pierce's photo and the label, "Housing enemy No. 1."

The crowd then went outside and marched around the fountain in front of the building. They dispersed peacefully when police arrived.

"Silent Sam Pierce is doing nothing, nothing at all for neighborhoods. He doesn't care," said Gale Cincotta of Chicago, chairwoman of National People's Action. "When he guts HUD, he's gutting our neighborhoods, so we came to his neighborhood. It's a nice neighborhood."

Under Pierce, HUD's funding has been cut more than in any other Cabinet-level department. Since 1980, HUD appropriations for low-income housing have been cut from $33.5 billion to $15.1 billion a year. More cuts are being negotiated with Congress.

Under Pierce, HUD has virtually stopped building new housing projects. It has concentrated on repairing existing units, but has cut rehabilitation funds.

At the same time, the shortage of affordable housing for poor families has more than doubled since 1980, to nearly four million units, according to the Low-Income Housing Information Service, a non-profit organization. At least one million families are on waiting lists for public housing, according to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, a lobbying group.

National People's Action is a loose coalition of neighborhood groups, which come together once a year in Washington for leadership meetings and protests on housing, lending practices, utility issues and other concerns.

The neighborhood groups want more housing money, or at least a freeze on cuts; better targeting of housing money for lower-income neighborhoods; and more citizen involvement in how the money is spent. They are asking that congressional hearings on housing funding be held in major cities, including Atlanta.

Pierce, the only black member of Reagan's Cabinet, is also the last remaining member of the 1981 Cabinet. Pierce has defended the cuts as necessary to help reduce the federal deficit in spending.

"We try the best we can to try to save cities. We don't turn our back on people," he told the National League of Cities in 1983. "You try to use what money you can, what can be afforded, and you try to use it as wisely as possible. But we don't have the kind of money where we can just go in and buy out a city."

"Hey, Sam," Mrs. Cincotta yelled outside his door, "we got some homeless people with us. Can they sleep in your hallway?"


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Reprinted with permission from The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. Further reproduction, retransmission or distribution of these materials without the prior written consent of The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, and any copyright holder identified in the material's copyright notice, is prohibited.


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