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I come now to the final point—the locally autonomous nature of both the slum-clearance and the housing programs. As I stated earlier, our association is particularly concerned with the public administration phase of these programs, and on the basis of the extensive experience of our members, I am prepared to state categorically that the success of a public-housing program and a slum-clearance program will vary with the degree of local autonomy which obtains in the planning, initiation, construction, and operation of the projects. We recognize that there is a place for the exercise, by the Federal Government, of a large measure of jurisdiction; the local agencies for whom I speak are not insensitive to the value of the technical assistance which the Federal Government is able to make available to the localities. Nor do we question that degree of control which the Federal Government as a lender of money and a grantor of contributions, must legitimately exert for its protection as a financial agent and for its concern with seeing that the limitations prescribed by Congress are faithfully observed. But we are equally satisfied that there is a large field in which the localities—the public housing authorities or agencies, the redevelopment agencies, the State legislatures, and the local governing bodies-must be free to make decisions in the light of the peculiar needs and circumstances of the locality. This conclusion How's not only from the recognized fact that decisions affecting localities are best made within the localities, but also from the rather obvious assumption that the needs and circumstances of a locality are better known to it than by any central Federal agency.
For these reasons we strongly support the many provisions in H. R. 4009 which are calculated to make certain that the localities, whether it is the governing body or the local public housing or redevelopment agency, must have the initial responsibility for making all decisions from the time it is determined there shall be a project through the actual operation of such a project. The peculiar strength of the public-housing and sum-clearance programs in this country lies in this framework: That the Federal Government neither builds nor operates a single project and that the locality cannot evade or avoid its responsibility for initiating any program. Incidentally, it is for this reason that we have certain reservations with respect to an amendment which was added to S. 1070 by the Senate last week under which public hearings are required before any land can be acquired under the slum clearance and redevelopment title. We believe that whether or not hearings should be held or what land should be acquired is a matter which should be determined by the locality in the light of its own practices on similar matters, and not one which, if contrary to local practice, should be forced on the locality by the Federal Government.
If, for example, a locality has been in the practice of avoiding public announcement of the location of proposed public works out of a fear that such an announcement before actual acquisition of land would lead to land speculation and the consequent pressures to select one site against another, then, we see no reason why the Federal Government should require that such a locality should abandon that practice in the case of a slum-clearance site.
We believe that H. R. 1009 contains sufficient safeguards as to local governing-body approval of a redevelopment plan, and, for ourselves, we have sufficient confidence in the integrity of the localities in stating that title I of H. R. 4009 represents a more workable title than the
corresponding title in S. 1070 as it passed the Senate with its publichearings requirement.
I have previously mentioned our firm conviction that the local public agencies or authorities are equipped to handle the wide range of problems from initiation through operation. It occurs to me that since these authorities act through individuals, you might be interested in knowing the diversified composition of these local authorities. The membership of a local housing authority generally consists of five members appointed by their chief executive of the locality from business, professional, and civic leaders of the community. It is interesting to note that a recent tabulation made of the interests of commissioners of housing authorities revealed the following breakdown:
In closing, may I say that the National Association of Housing Officials is grateful for the opportunity afforded it by the committee to present this testimony. We are confident that the committee recognizes the twin problems of slum clearance and low-rent housing as among the most critical domestic issues facing us today, and that the committee will give H. R. 4009 the speedy and favorable consideration which that bill deserves.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much for your statement, Mr. Cox. We appreciate the views of the organization for which you speak. It has been very helpful. Are there any questions? Mr. DEANE. Mr. Chairman. The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Deane.
Mr. DEANE. How many people are housed in your public housing projects?
Mr. Cox. In Norfolk we do not have a large public housing program. We are typical of the average community. We have one development which houses 230 families, which is devoted to low rent use; a second, still serving Navy enlisted families, has not been converted.
Mr. DEANE. Where were these people living before this develop ment was put into use?
Mr. Cox. When this development was converted from its temporary use serving war workers, in 1946, there were then 58 families out of those living there eligible to remain. All of the other families have since been replaced by low-income families moved from Norfolk's slums.
Mr. DEANE. Slums in what sense?
Mr. Cox. In the sense that the units in which they were living substandard, which, of course, as you know, was a requirement of the
United States Housing Act of 1937, under which that project was financed.
Mr. DEANE. How does the rent you charge compare with the rent that was charged before!
Mr. Cox. The rent that was charged before is not a factor of major consideration to us, because the rent charged before, of course, was the rent which was charged for a substandard house. Our concern in fixing rents is to make certain not that we do not compete with substandard housing but that we do not compete with standard housing in the community. So all of our rents are well below the rents charged in our community for standard housing, on the private market.
Mr. DEANE. You mentioned certain members of your commission who own considerable real estate. Do they look upon this particular unit as in direct competition with their private interests?
Mr. Cox. No, sir; they do not, or I do not believe they would elect to continue to serve, under oath, as commissioners of a housing authority. To begin with, I know of no holdings that these gentlemen have, while they own real estate, I know of no holdings that they have that would represent substandard housing.
Mr. DEANE. What is the approximate annual income of the families in this project?
Mr. Cox. Based on a complete reexamination dated April 9 of this year, the average total family income of the 228 families that were found to be eligible to remain there is $1,591.
Mr. DEANE. Are they permanent residents of the Norfolk area?
Mr. Cox. We are evicting those, sir. We have been reexamining the incomes, in that development, about every 6 months, and each time that we reexamine, we find a limited number of families whose income has increased beyond the limits for continued occupancy, and they are forced to move. Two families were found to be in that category on the April 9 reexamination.
Mir. DEANE. I have heard it said that this particular system of public housing is developing a political system which will perpetuate certain groups in office, in this way: That local housing officials are becoming more or less commissars to control the thinking, the living conditions, the political philosophy, and the general social behavior of these people, and that a perpetuation of this type of program throughout the country is socialistic. Would you wish to comment on that general observation?
Mr. Cox. Well, sir, it is so far beyond the actual practice,I have heard the same statement made—that it is absolutely ridiculous. If you were to see the list of diverse occupations of the people, for instance, occupying our project, you would see that there was clearly no effort made, and clearly no indication that there is any exercise of control or political influence of any kind over the tenants in a public housing project.
I know, in my experience, of no justification for that complaint.
Mr. DEANE. Do you look upon this housing unit as having lifted the standard of living, morally, spiritually, and, saving otherwise, contributed to an improve social order?
Mr. Cox. Yes, sir; there is no doubt about it, and we have statements to that effect from the health department, from the agencies dealing with social welfare in the community, from the juvenile court, all of which were testified to in a statement made by the mayor of Norfolk filed for the record in connection with the debate on S. 1070) before the Senate. I would be glad to read it to you, if you wish.
Mr. DEANE. Thank you very much, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Are all the public housing units, comparable units, rented for the same amount?
Mr. Cox. Do you mean comparable in size?
Mr. Cox. No, sir: the rent of the unit is based on the ability of the resident to pay, and there are many instances, in a low-rent housing project, where a family living in a four-bedroom unit is paying less rent than a family living in a one-bedroom unit, because of relative ability to pay. Under the law, as you know—the present law-we must take the family income into consideration in fixing the rent, and we think that is entirely appropriate.
The CHAIRMAN. To what extent is there a diversity in rents? Is there a very great diversity in the rents they pay?
Mr. Cox. Yes, sir; a very great diversity, because we dip down to the very lowest income. Therefore, there is a very wide range of incomes; with that wide range of incomes there is a commensurate wide range of rents, with the top rent, however, still being well below the rents charged for standard housing in the community.
The CHAIRMAN. If you did not operate within that range, you would not be able to help the people of the community?
Mr. Cox. That is right.
Mr. Cox. This project was built in 1942, and was, for obvious redsons, in effect loaned to the war effort.
Mr. Cole. Was it originally a public-housing project?
Mr. Cox. Yes, sir; it was built with United States Housing Act of 1937 funds.
Mr. COLE. How much per year are you receiving in contributions? Mr. Cox. On that development ? Mr. COLE. Yes. Mr. Cox. This year we will receive something in the neighborhood of $30,000.
Mr. COLE. That will be used for what?
Mr. Cox. That will be used to supplement the rents paid by the families there, which rents represent their ability to pay, so as to provide the authority with the funds necessary to meet the annual cost of operating that project, including the debt-service requirements.
Mr. COLE. Are you amortizing the capital investment?
Mr. COLE. Do you anticipate that your annual contributions will increase or decrease?
Mr. Cox. They cannot increase.
Mr. COLE. They are at the maximum now?
Mr. Cox. They are at the maximum now. That being the first public housing development that we had available in our community-it is a Negro housing development—we are dipping into the very lowest income group among our slum dwellers.
Mr. COLE. Apparently you are using your maximum contribution, and that, I think, frankly, is one of the fine purposes of this program. One of my big objections to the program is that they are not doing that; they are not providing for the lowest-income groups, but are providing for groups who have no business in these housing projects.
Mr. Cox. Mr. Cole, you say they are providing for groups that have no business in them?
Mr. Cole. Yes.
Mr. Cox. I am satisfied, sir, that, in the main, the reverse is true; that, in the main, they are providing, throughout the country, for the groups for which they were intended to provide. There may be exceptional cases in certain communities where some high-income families still remain in the project.
Mr. COLE. Of course, it is a question of definition and interpretation of what you mean and what I mean by the type of people that should be given assistance. You anticipate, of course, that there will be additional low-rent-housing construction in your community?
Mr. Cox. Yes, sir.
Mr. COLE. What do you anticipate will be the maximum need, in your community?
Mr. Cox. I would rather talk in terms of minimum need, sir.
Mr. COLE. Well, you may, but I would rather talk in terms of maximum need.
Mr. Cox. At the present time we are conducting, with funds made available by our city council, a complete survey of the housing needs and the housing conditions in the city of Norfolk, which will be a part of a housing and redevelopment program for the community, and until that is completed, I am not in a position to give a responsible estimate of the maximum need.
Mr. COLE. What is the population of Norfolk?
Mr. COLE. It is quite an industralized city; is it not? You have some considerable industry there?
Mr. Cox. We have some industry. Our principal industry is the United States Navy.
Mr. COLE. Yes. "Those people, of course, are not eligible, or do you have any Government employees in the project?
Mr. Cox. Yes, we do.
Mr. Cox. We have, I believe, 18 employees of the United States naval operating base living in that project, whose incomes are below the ceiling for the project.
Mr. COLE. In that connection, 230 families is quite a small proportion of the population; is it not?
Mr. Cox. Yes, sir. We are satisfied that the minimum needs in the city of Norfolk will reach 3,000 and above.
Mr. COLE. Families? Minimum?