Cisneros speaks on urban decay

by Jason Casell | 8/10/95 5:00am

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros blamed the Republican-controlled Congress last night for impeding the progress his agency has made in handling the crises in America's cities.

"The progress we have made and our hopes for continuing that progress in American cities and metropolitan areas are in jeopardy today because of actions taken in the House of Representatives," he said in a speech to a capacity crowd of more than 140 people in Room 3 of the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences.

"The House, which has finished action on its appropriations bills for this year, cuts urban programs across the board and cuts them deeply," he said.

Cisneros said the budget for HUD has been slashed by 27 percent from $26 billion to $19.4 billion for the next fiscal year.

"These cuts threaten to undercut what President Clinton is trying to do," he said.

"On this beautiful campus amid the lush, green woods of New Hampshire on this bright, warm summer evening, the issues facing America's most troubled urban areas may seem remote," Cisneros said.

"But in 1995, the future of our large cities and the great metropolitan areas which they anchor depend in no small part on Americans in settings just like this to understand America's urban problem," Cisneros said.

He said the dilemmas facing urban areas are a result of three factors.

"America's cities face a crisis of severe poverty, a crisis of high unemployment and erosion of the job base and a crisis of social isolation."

Cisneros cited statistics from his recent travels across the country to illustrate the severity of the urban housing crisis.

According to Cisneros, 25 years ago 3.8 million people lived in the poorest neighborhoods in the largest 94 U.S. cities.

Today that figure has jumped to 10.8 million, he said.

Cisneros also pointed to Camden, N.J., as an example of a city dominated by a minority population and economically ravaged by unemployment.

Ninety-five percent of Camden's residents are African-American and Hispanic, and one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, he said.

"In the neighborhoods and communities where these numbers converge, the bottom line is frequently the interplay of forces that create economic and social devastation," he said.

Cisneros said he has visited more than 120 U.S. cities during his tenure at HUD, and situations like that of Camden can be seen across the country.

"As the central cities go, so go the suburban metropolitan areas and so goes the nation," he said. "This alarming scenario must not become the story of America's future --the 'Blade Runner' scenario."

The speech was part of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies summer symposium on "Contemporary Issues in Urban America."