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AMERICA'S HOUSING

Report Card on Congress Aid to Housing : Voting: California House delegation gets a D-plus from a liberal organization specializing in housing policies.

October 21, 1990|CATHERINE COLLINS | Collins, a veteran real estate reporter, writes from Washington on housing-related issues.

From New Jersey to Los Angeles, builders and developers, lenders and housing advocates are joining hands to build shelters for the homeless, construct affordable rental property or provide below-market financing for low-income buyers.

For example, the Local Initiative Support Corp. is the intermediary for public and private sector parterships designed to fund and build low-income housing nationwide. Since its inception three years ago, its California program has arranged for $20 million of corporate funding and another $30 million of local and state funding to build 900 rental units, mostly in the Los Angeles area.

Patrick Johnson, director of LISC's California Equity Fund, said this will be the best year yet. He expects to raise more corporate funding this year than in the previousd three--$30 million to build another 600 units."We have really rounded the bend in terms of corporate involvement in community development in California," he said. Yet the "Congressional Report Card on Housing" prepared by the National Housing Institute (NHI) finds that the House of Representatives is sharply divided by politics when it comes to housing policy.

NHI is a liberal public policy and education organization devoted to housing issues. It was founded in 1982 in New Jersey and works with housing advocates across the country to design community development programs.

To compile its first-ever score card on the subject, the NHI researched all roll call votes from January, 1981, through the current session of the House. An advisory board of experts helped select 20 key votes that had a significant impact on housing, and each vote was categorized as "pro-housing" or "anti-housing."

(Only House votes were counted because the study's authors could not find enough Senate votes on specific housing issues to do a complete study.)

The 20 votes examined were broad, covering such elements of housing policy as parts of the savings and loan bailout, housing and community development appropriations, fair housing legislation to prevent landlords from banning children and people with disabilities, rent control, assistance to the homeless and prohibiting the demolition of 2,600 units of subsidized housing in Texas.

Of the current members of the House, 385 were recorded on 10 or more votes and thus were included in the study. Of that number, 77, or 20%, voted "pro-housing" all the time and received grades of A-plus. Another 132, or 34%, "failed," which meant they voted for fewer than half the pro-housing measures.

Delegations from Massachusetts and South Dakota had the highest ratings, 97% and 92%, respectively. Utah and New Hampshire's congressmen were rated worst at 24% and 5%, respectively.

California's delegation received an overall rating of 66%, a D-plus on the report card and good for 19th place. The congressional average was 64%.

"We salute those who gained 100% and we can only wish for those below 50% a speedy retirement from politics," said the report. "For those with 20% or less, NHI awards these Scrooges a place in its annual Homeless Hall of Shame."

Like teachers sending report cards home for a student's parent to sign, NHI hopes to publicize the grades of congressmen with the voters.

California's 45-member delegation seemed particularly partisan. Only one Republican scored over 50% while 16 Democrats were rated 100%.

Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) earned a failing rating of 5%. His press secretary, Paul Mero, said he had never heard of the NHI report card.

"From experience, we can say that we wear these score cards like a badge of honor," Mero said.

"No doubt, by the sounds of the choice of votes--those concerning the homeless and rent control--the National Housing Institute is a liberal organization that advocates socialistic answers to these problems. Because we didn't get a zero, it makes me think we went wrong somewhere."

On the other side is Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), who got a 94% rating and said:

"A number of groups have taken this approach. When you have a complicated issue that requires multiple votes, it is difficult to transfer the complexities in an understandable fashion to the voters.

"Congressmen are very artful at saying they are for something like housing, whether or not the record backs them up. The bottom line is how they have voted. A study like this has the ability to cut through the rhetoric."

The national housing situation has reached crisis proportions, said Ann Harrington, legislative advocate for the California Coalition for Rural Housing in Sacramento.

"We have more and more people sleeping in the streets," she said. "We have renters paying greater and greater proportions of their income toward rent. And we even have the middle class folks who can no longer afford to buy a home."

Patrick Morrissy, a developer of affordable housing in New Jersey, said, "We are the only advanced, industrialized country in which the percentage of home ownership is declining."

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