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The political shake-up on Capitol Hill on Thursday, care of Republican-turned-Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, has given housing advocates hope that their agenda may make it to the Senate floor. To drive those hopes home, hundreds of New York City public housing residents descended on Washington last week to protest millions of dollars in cuts proposed by President Bush for the federal housing budget.

High on the list of programs to be slashed from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program, which sends the city $35 million each year to combat drug use through beefed-up security, anti-drug education and after-school programs at housing developments around the city.

Should the president and HUD Secretary Mel Martinez get their way, last year’s $310 million program will be slashed, and about half that will be funneled though the Public Housing Assistance Operating Fund, a general pot into which housing authorities can dip for anything from drug prevention to housing for seniors. HUD, Martinez has explained, wants out of the law enforcement business.

The city has anticipated some of these cuts by putting aside funds to keep afloat Operation Safe Home, a $19 million program funded by HUD since 1981. A collaboration among housing and law enforcement officials, it is meant to reduce crime in housing developments by financing police overtime, tenant patrol groups and drug treatment programs.

This safety net will only catch half of the loss, however-and with the mayor calling for a $5.8 million cut in the housing authority’s budget, there’s not much to go around.

Crediting the program for keeping kids out of trouble, Castle Hill housing resident Gerri Lamb certainly does not plan to take this cut quietly. Any cut “would be a major disservice to the people,” said Lamb, who also chairs the Citywide Council of Presidents. “We want to reach as many people as possible.”

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