The Department of Housing and Urban Development has reformed itself enough to deserve increases in funding for housing vouchers and the first new money in two decades for new rental housing construction, says Secretary Andrew Cuomo. He made his remarks Monday night here at the HUD-sponsored conference, Housing Policy for the New Millennium, as Congress this month considers the HUD appropriations bill.

The agency has proven it can put past scandals and inefficiencies behind it, he told about 100 government, academic and industry officials in the Hilton Crystal City. “The reforms have worked,” Cuomo said. “We can talk policy again.”

HUD has requested its third straight increase in budget for vouchers–$683 million–which includes the first new money exclusively for rental construction in 24 years, he said. HUD also has hopes for a proposal for $1 billion in housing construction, although neither the House nor the Senate currently include any money for such new construction in their appropriations bills.

If the new money for both vouchers and construction is not appropriated, Cuomo suggested he would recommend President Clinton veto the bill.

“I believe he will do it,” Cuomo said.

HUD needs to push for the new funding while an unusually favorable set of conditions lasts. Besides HUD polishing its reputation, the economy is strong enough to support a budget surplus, and there is a new political consensus to support housing, he said. He also praised the state agencies, community-based organizations and intermediaries.

“We have the best infrastructure on the planet. Use it,” he said.

HUD would use the construction money to build mixed-income neighborhoods, although targeting the poorest people for the most help–those with incomes of 30% of the median income in any given area.

Cuomo argued that new housing construction was necessary because vouchers do not work in many cases.

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