Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., who promised Monday that as secretary of housing and urban development he would combat homelessness, voted against major legislation last year to help the homeless.
Kemp also voted in recent years for several House measures to cut back on some housing programs that he will be administering as the new housing secretary. President-elect George Bush announced Monday that he had chosen Kemp for the job.Some advocates for housing programs for the poor said this week that Kemp's votes on several measures on housing and homelessness appeared to contradict his statement at a press conference Monday that "you cannot balance the budget off the backs of the poor."
But other housing experts expressed guarded optimism that Kemp, an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for president this year, would have the energy to offer creative solutions and the clout to bring public housing issues back into the limelight.
"Kemp will bring to the job a demonstrated interest in low-income housing," said Barry Zigas, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. "But the acid test will be whether Kemp is prepared to fight for the major resources needed to solve the enormous problems of public housing."
An analysis of Kemp's voting rec-ord in recent years shows that his support for legislation to help housing for the poor and assist the homeless has been mixed.
For example, Kemp voted against the Urgent Relief for the Homeless bill on March 5, 1987. That bill, approved 264-121, authorized $725 million over four years for new aid to the homeless. The bill was the major congressional initiative on the homeless.
According to the Congressional Quarterly, Kemp did not vote on the measure that appropriated money for the homeless bill later in 1987. Kemp also did not vote when the homeless bill, called the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, was re-authorized this Aug. 3.
At the press conference Monday, Kemp said Bush had "asked for full funding of the McKinney Act" during the new administration. Kemp said also that he would try to forge "a public-private partnership" to help deal with the "appalling tragedy" of homelessness in America.
Mary Brunette, Kemp's legislative director, said Kemp probably had voted against the McKinney bill because President Reagan's administration had opposed it. She explained Kemp's failure to vote on the other two measures by saying that Kemp "missed a great number of votes because of other commitments."
But the vote on the McKinney bill, as well as some other Kemp positions, has worried some advocates of greater aid to the homeless and to poor people.
"There's nothing in Kemp's record that causes me anything but deep concern," said Florence W. Roisman, a lawyer in Washington who represents groups that fight for housing for the poor.
"If selling off public housing is his primary legislative achievement in this field, then that's not going to help many public housing tenants," Roisman said. "It will reduce the stock of affordable housing that is available to low-income people."
Kemp was a major sponsor of a measure to allow some tenant management groups to buy public housing units. After being modified by the House committee that handles housing bills, a version of Kemp's plan became law last year.
Gerald R. McMurray, staff director for the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development, said Kemp had shown "active interest and understanding" in tenant management issues.
But McMurray said that "we only heard from Kemp on those issues. Outside of that, it was dead silence or sticking to the (Reagan) administration's line on housing issues."
Richard Y. Nelson, executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, said he hoped Kemp would bring some new ideas and leadership to federal housing policy. But Nelson said he was unsure Kemp would deliver.
"My main fear is that Kemp will embrace what appears to be the conservative approach to housing, that is, to dismantle HUD programs and get rid of public housing," Nelson said.