'Urban Peace Corps' Created
First President Kennedy started the Peace Corps. Then came President Clinton's AmeriCorps. On Wednesday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced the formation of America's newest service program: Community Builders.
The program, which proponents describe as an "urban Peace Corps," will attempt to revitalize cities by recruiting hundreds of skilled professionals into government service through temporary fellowships. HUD will operate the program in partnership with Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
"This program marks a turning point in the way we approach problem-solving in our communities, especially our urban centers, which are facing complex economic and social challenges," Cuomo said at a press conference.
HUD will hire 460 "community builders"--bankers, educators, social workers, doctors and law enforcement officials--who will work out of the department's 81 field offices as the agency's first points of contact. Examples of the kind of work they'll do include helping to open or expand small businesses and shopping centers or developing parks and recreational facilities.
"Like the Peace Corps, we will expand over the years into a powerful movement for change, growth and self-empowerment," Cuomo said.
Participants in the Community Builders program will receive four weeks of training at Harvard, followed by two weeks of training at HUD. They will learn about community and economic development, housing, welfare reform, real estate, technology and communications, Cuomo said.
During their fellowships, participants will be considered federal employees. They will receive salaries ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.
Cuomo said that the department's current budget can cover the costs because of reductions elsewhere.
Still, Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Banking subcommittee on housing and community opportunity, criticized the program.
"Instead of spending money sending new recruits--who are not volunteers--to Harvard, perhaps we could use those resources to reduce the cuts that HUD is proposing to senior and disabled housing," Lazio told the Associated Press. "It may not be as glamorous, but it gets the job done."
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