Activists Urge Clinton To Frame Urban Strategy

City advocates point to `hidden' federal money buried in agencies

ADVOCATES who want to change United States urban policy are making dozens of proposals to the Clinton administration.

The outcome, according to a Clinton transition team participant, will probably be a program of "multiple strategies" focusing equally on infrastructure and human needs.

Robert Bullard, a sociology professor at the University of California at Riverside, also says, "All inner-city problems are now tightly interrelated. The priority is to see them that way, not in pieces."

Richard Nathan agrees. A former Nixon administration official and provost of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs at the State University of New York at Albany, Mr. Nathan says he thinks Clinton should strengthen community-based groups.

"This is the nonprofitization of social services when over half of all community services in the US are provided now by nonprofit community groups," he says.

Calling for a national community foundation, similar to the National Science Foundation, Nathan says the purpose would be to "help community groups improve their capacity to serve, to stop episodic funding to them, and help them implement good management techniques and plan ahead to provide multiple services."

Behind the meanest city streets, the statistics of urban failure are well known to the Clinton administration.

In the nation's 30 largest cities, including Washington, D.C., the poverty rate between 1980 and 1990 reached 19.5 percent while direct federal aid to cities over the last 12 Republican years dropped from $44.2 billion in 1981 to $23.4 billion in 1992.

Last week at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, the infrastructure needs of crumbling cities were on city leaders' minds.

The mayors said 500 cities had 7,000 construction projects from bridges to police stations waiting for federal funds. More than 400,000 jobs would be created, said the mayors.

The cost: $13 billion, and additional billions needed later. The money would come from $50.4 billion earmarked in the federal budget for physical improvement projects.

As Clinton searches for money to fund his inner-city strategies, Louisville, Ky., Mayor Jerry Abramson suggests Clinton might want to the blow the bureaucratic dust off some federal agencies.

"Henry Cisneros (new Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary) found $2.5 billion in affordable housing money that had been held up in the Office of Management and Budget for two years," he says, "and he found another $3 billion in the bowels of HUD that's been sitting there for nine months."

Indeed, last June HUD announced that $7.2 billion in unspent federal funds were all but forgotten in federal accounts for major housing and community development programs.

`This is not new money," says Abramson, "but billions that could be spent now and have a major effect on providing affordable housing in this country, plus the creation of jobs."

Also last week the National Urban League renewed its call for a comprehensive Marshall Plan for America including establishing a Cabinet-level director to administer it.

"The plan is not a social program . . . but an economic investment program designed to serve overriding national interests," says Billy Tidwell, research director of the National Urban League.

The cost? Over $50 billion a year for 10 years. Mr. Tidwell says, "Cost is not the issue. We found a way to finance the savings-and-loan bailout, about $500 billion because it was in our national interest to do so."

Rebuild America Coalition, an organization of 57 public and private organizations headed by Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, proposes new ways to increase infrastructure investment by public and private sectors. Some of the proposals would make it easier for private investors to invest in infrastructure projects by changes in the federal tax code, including issuing infrastructure saving bonds sold in small denominations. No estimates of costs were considered.

The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., research group, advocates sending inner-city workers on improved transportation systems to work in suburbia, where most of the jobs are these days.

Calling the suburbs "engines of employment growth," the institute report said the "new metropolis is predicated on mobility."

The report suggests the federal government should spend "$5 million to $10 million on demonstration projects."

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