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Brooklyn Public Housing Plan Proposed as Model for Country

March 15, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Members of a congressional housing subcommittee say there’s no reason a church-sponsored program that has built hundreds of low-income houses in blighted areas of Brooklyn can’t work in other cities.

The Nehemiah Plan, named for the biblical prophet who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, uses city donations of vacant land and state mortgage subsidies, plus church funds for construction loans, to build brick rowhouses for families with incomes under $25,000.

″Nehemiah is what this country’s all about: homeownership for the people that make ... our communities work - the bus driver, the nurse, the teacher, the fireman, the policeman,″ Rep. Stewart McKinney, R-Conn., said Thursday.

About 250 homes valued at $50,000 each have been built under the plan. More than 4,500 additional houses are on the drawing board.

Federal legislation proposed by Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would make available $300 million for second mortgages of up to $15,000 that would be repaid only when the homes were resold.

The keys to Nehemiah are local initiative and homeownership, Schumer said.

″If you’re not going to have a local, indigenous group that will build this housing ... from scratch, then you’re not going to be able to do this program,″ he said.

In Brooklyn, several dozen churches contributed $8 million for construction loans, and community leaders pressured the city to donate vacant land. City politicians went further and made available individual grants of $10,000.

Schumer’s plan, which comes at a time when the Reagan administration is proposing to eliminate housing programs, would replace the city grants with federal loans. Homeowners still would have to put up at least $5,000 of their own.

Rep. Henry Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the housing and community development subcommittee of the House Banking Committee, called the Nehemiah Plan ″brilliant, seminal and original.″

He cautioned, however, that it is not a substitute for existing public housing programs that stress public construction and rental subsidies.

Rep. Parren Mitchell, D-Md., chairman of the Small Business Committee, said ″you can tell in a minute which neighborhoods are home-owned and which neighborhoods are primarily rental″ by walking through the streets of Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

″There’s a distinct difference in an area where there is significant homeownership. There’s pride, there’s cleanliness, there’s a whole lot of good things going on. We’re going to knock ourselves out to see that this gets passed,″ Mitchell said.

Given the Reagan administration’s opposition, the prospects for passage of Schumer’s bill are uncertain.

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