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Kemp's quest: to revitalize US inner cities. Bush's choice as HUD chief seems sure to be easily confirmed

The man who formerly quarterbacked pro football's Buffalo Bills is now trying to make winners out of troubled government programs to aid America's distressed cities. But first he is likely to change the game plan. Jack Kemp is expected to have no difficulty gaining Senate confirmation to the Cabinet position of secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). President-elect George Bush officially nominated him Monday. Mr. Kemp, an economic conservative, gave up his seat in the US House of Representatives this year to run unsuccessfully for president.

Conservatives expect Kemp to move HUD away from government subsidies for low-income housing for inner-city residents. Instead, says Stuart Butler, ``over the long haul'' Kemp's greatest effort will probably be ``to breathe new life in the depressed inner cities.'' Mr. Butler directs the Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

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During his presidential campaign, Kemp stumped the inner cities, backed programs to allow public-housing residents to purchase the apartments in which they lived, and repeated his longstanding support for public-private programs to revitalize central cities.

``The most serious problem'' that Kemp will face, says Douglas Besharov, ``is engaging blacks and other minorities in the process of government, and in our economy as a whole. ... He's going to try to bring them into the mainstream of our country.

Mr. Besharov, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says that providing federal funds is only part of the process. ``A much more important part is atmospherics. People have to feel that someone is listening to them, and that there are alternatives to simple subsidies'' for housing. Kemp, Besharov says, can be expected to try alternatives. He ``is an activist.''

Kemp himself said when his nomination was announced that he considered it ``absolutely necessary, and possible, I believe, to gain consensus on a public-private enterprise partnership to wage war on poverty.''

In announcing the nomination, Mr. Bush called Kemp ``an idea man.'' Mr. Butler expects Kemp's ideas to include seeking to expand HUD programs to permit public-housing tenants to own their apartments. Further, he says, Kemp will seek to work with community-based organizations that too often in the past have felt stifled by bureaucratic government requirements.

Butler also says Kemp will be working with other government departments to try to deal with major problems besieging many large cities that are not strictly within HUD's purview. Drug abuse and educational deficiencies are two of the most serious.

Yet by wide agreement the most immediate problem is housing for the poor, especially for the homeless.

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Estimates on how many Americans are homeless vary widely. Yet their visibility ``is creating a lot of pressure on local officials and governments,'' says Margery Turner, a housing specialist at the Urban Institute. ``And that pressure is working its way up'' to federal authorities, which she says will require Kemp, as head of HUD, to take action.

The primary legislation that Congress this year passed into law to deal with homelessness, says Martha Burt, provides most of its money for emergency housing. It is the McKinney Act, named for the late Connecticut Rep. Stewart McKinney (R), who championed aid to the homeless.

Ms. Burt, director of social services research at the Urban Institute, says what the federal government has not yet done in a major way is to look at preventing homelessness.

Several serious problems exist with the housing that the federal government now subsidizes. For one thing, thousands of public housing units are dilapidated. Their repair is expected to cost $20 billion, according to a year-old HUD study. In some large cities the number of poor in need of housing far outstrips available subsidized housing.

During the 1960s and '70s some 1.9 million apartments were built by private owners with federal subsidies, on condition that for a period of years they be rented to low-income tenants. Over the next 15 years, according to the Government Accounting Office, more than half of these apartments will become eligible to be used in other ways, such as rented for higher incomes or converted to condominiums. The result could be significantly fewer low-income apartments.

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