In a speech billed as a report on the state of America's communities, Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said the Clinton administration had "stemmed the downhill slide" of the nation's cities.

"We have been to the bottom of the well, and now America's cities are demonstrating that they're capable of climbing back," Mr. Cisneros told an audience Thursday at the National Press Club.

He credited several Clinton administration initiatives. Among them, he said, are the administration's programs to encourage multiracial and multiclass homeownership in cities, economic development in so-called empowerment zones, and better-run public housing.

Banks and other lenders were among the businesses the administration enlisted last year in its drive to boost homeownership to record levels by the year 2000.

The rate of homeownership did rise during 1995 after several years at a standstill. The administration claims credit for the increase. Economists attribute it largely to low interest rates that have made homes more affordable.

Mr. Cisneros said Republicans in Congress had played politics with housing issues. For example, empowerment zones, long advocated by Republicans and finally implemented by a Democratic President, are now being only scantily funded, he said. Congressional cuts in federal programs also threaten to make many public housing residents homeless, he added.

He proposed a menu of changes to help American cities right away. They include a new round of empowerment zones, the protection of the Community Reinvestment Act, and the low-income housing tax credit, and funding community development banks. Mr. Cisneros also said Congress should provide funds to expand affordable housing.

To demonstrate that cities can come back, he showed slides of newly built houses and supermarkets in formerly blighted neighborhoods in Newark, N.J., Detroit, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and other cities.

Mr. Cisneros conceded that many cities would never regain the large populations of their heydays. Detroit, once two million strong, now has 1.1 million people. Pittsburgh, which once had 800,000 residents, now has less than half that number.

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