Recent Housing and Urban Development scandals have added government housing programs to Watergate and Iran-contra in America's recent lexicon of political disrepute. Things haven't always been this way. In the 1930s and 1940s, public-housing programs showed ``lots of creativity and a social purpose that seemed to have everyone's backing,'' says Roger Cumming, the New York architect who designed the Thelma Burdick apartments. The reason: Back then, people regarded such housing as a ``place where regular white folks down on their luck could be taken care of.''
By the 1960s, that had changed. Public housing was seen as storage for blacks and Hispanics, and housing authorities just wanted to get them out of the way.
```What a terrible bunch of people''' was the attitude of New York housing officials, Mr. Cumming recalls. ``They all lived in the suburbs. They had nothing in common with tenants.''
As a result, they often constructed high-rise slums, as far as possible from everyone else. ``It was a warehouse scheme,'' Cumming says of the Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis, which became a symbol for public housing when authorities finally dynamited it in 1974. ``It was doomed to failure.''
Today, by contrast, Cumming sees more people in city housing offices who were raised in urban ghettos themselves. ``It has changed for the better,'' he says.