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Cranston Leads Move for Housing Bill

October 04, 1987|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

Led by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on housing and urban affairs, an increasing bipartisan House and Senate effort is coming together among conferees who want to create a 1987 housing bill that will come out of Congress with enough impetus to get a White House signature.

Housing bills passed earlier by the Senate and House are now in the process of being made acceptable to both houses. Generally, both bills preserve housing credit programs without accepting any Administration proposals to increase program fees to users.

Cranston, regarded as a major force in housing legislation planned to be introduced next year, has urged fellow conferees to pass a "lean" bill to forestall any threat of veto by the Reagan Administration.

Meanwhile, the Senate subcommittee headed by Cranston is moving strongly to make Congress and influential members of the real estate and housing industries aware that "the need for decent, affordable housing has never been more urgent."

Southern Californians are well aware of the high cost of a fairly small first house for young couples. A recent realtor survey showed that the median sales price of existing single-family houses in the Los Angeles area rose from about $128,700 in the spring of 1986 to more than $139,000 in the spring of 1987. In Orange County, the increase was even greater, from about $149,000 to $167,000. In the same period the median price of resold houses rose 17% in the Washington, D.C., area to $120,000.

Those prices are indications of why Cranston and others in Congress are concerned about the financial ability of young Americans to buy first homes or to be able to pay rents that now are in excess of $500 a month (including utilities) for a one-bedroom, 20-year-old garden apartment in a non-fashionable section of suburban Washington.

The Cranston committee has plans to hold extensive hearings next year after introducing major housing legislation that "must have both a manageable number of objectives that elicit wide support and a set of clear themes that are appropriate to current conditions."

To set the stage for the formulation of landmark housing legislation in 1988, Cranston and others are creating a broad-based, bipartisan effort.

Two activities expected to be helpful will be handled independently of Congress. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's department of urban studies and planning is developing a network of innovative housing professionals from whom 20 major papers have been commissioned to assess current housing conditions and what has been learned in recent years. These papers will be reviewed in a three-day conference to be held later this fall in Washington.

Longtime Washington housing/realty professional Joseph C. Murray commented: "There's no way that any reasonable person can argue with the objective of the Cranston effort. The challenge will be to make the aid and incentives to first-time home purchasers cost-effective.

"One would hope that the effort will come up with something as simple and helpful as was the original FHA idea of small down payments and federally insured loans (passed during the first FDR Administration). The basic idea of FHA was credited to the late Winfield Riefler, a most unsung federal employee who should be in the Housing Hall of Fame but isn't."

Another facet of the Cranston effort is a task force of "thoughtful, experienced practitioners in housing development and related fields" under the leadership of veteran developer and housing provider James W. Rouse and David Maxwell, head of the Federal National Mortgage Assn. Their group will be meeting every two weeks, beginning late this month to formulate strategies for making decent, affordable housing available to all Americans.

Any persons or organizations wanting to contribute suggestions on specific components of a major housing bill should submit them in "concise explanations." Even suggested changes in the tax code are welcomed. Any suggestions should be submitted in writing (clearly printed and single spaced) to the Office of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs, Room SD 535 of the Dirksen Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. Questions can be directed to the committee staff at 202/224-6348.

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