From ............ Christian Century

June 1-8, 1994

page 569


The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to set up an office to relate to the nation'.s churches on such issues as homelessness, fair housing and community rebuilding. HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros pledged to create such a post in an appearance April 21 at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called "The Black Church's Economic Responsibility for a New Urban Agenda.

More than 300 clergy and laity from a dozen denominations cheered the announcement at the April 20-23 conference, sponsored by Harvard Divinity School and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., an African-American denomination with a membership of about 2.5 million. Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, began his prepared remarks by saying the government and the church should "work together" to solve urban ills.

When a voice from the back of the hall asked, "Mr. Secretary, what mechanism have you put in place for relating HUD's priorities to the black church?" Cisneros replied, "I have been thinking about naming someone to do that, and I have decided today to create an office to interface with the churches."

Current HUD policy involves using nonprofit groups and churches to create housing and jobs, and Cisneros asked the churches to help promote fair and open housing, ''making it possible for people to live where they want to within their means. "

Cisneros listed fair housing and four other issues as top HUD priorities, including stepped-up efforts to alleviate homelessness, improvement of public housing, more affordable housing, and broad-based community revitalization.

The HUD secretary also praised the work of the churches, especially African-American congregations, in creating housing for the elderly and working with the homeless. In the future, he said, any subsidized housing that reverts to HUD for resale will be offered to nonprofit groups at a 30 percent discount.

Cisneros also explained his position on the administration's support for sweeps through public housing projects to search for illegal firearms - an idea that has been challenged by some constitutional experts. In his view it is clearly constitutional to keep guns out of lobbies and entrances to buildings so that residents can feel safe about entering.

In addition, Cisneros argued, sweeps would be legal in other common areas such as laundry rooms and vacant units and anywhere in a building during an emergency situation. Guns can be legally controlled in occupied apartments, he said, if police get permission from the tenants to do a search or if a lease prohibits firearms in an apartment.