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A Voice FOR THE Homeowner : Nonprofit Organization Seeks to Put Property Owners in Driver's Seat With Congress

March 08, 1992|EVELYN De WOLFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Elizabeth Malone announced to her friends that she had become a homeowner, they gathered to celebrate.

Malone's newly purchased townhouse in Panorama City was more than a tax write-off. It was a milestone in her life and she'd done it on her own.

"I had a hard time getting lenders to take me seriously, even with a good-paying job. The fact that I was young, single and a woman, didn't make my quest for the American dream any easier," she recalled.

"After that, everything seemed fine, until my roof caved in.

"The construction of our building was so shoddy that our homeowners' association had to come up with $10,000 to sink a pump so the swimming pool and Jacuzzi wouldn't flood every time it rained.

"We knew so little about homeownership."

When a friend told Malone about United Homeowners Assn., a Washington-based nonprofit, nonpartisan lobbying group started last April to protect the interests of the nation's homeowners, she was quick to join and is now one of its 3,000 members.

Van Nuys resident Roxann Lee joined the group because it made sense, she said. "It was a way to get my personal views across to Washington and to benefit from what other homeowners wanted done. Homeownership is what keeps our country going and our neighborhoods stable. The more members they can get, the more they can do."

The association was founded by Jordan Clark, a veteran lobbyist on Capitol Hill who was worried that with more than 3,000 groups lobbying in Washington and many more in the state capitals, not one represented the biggest-spending special-interest group in this country.

Clark was the first Vietnam veteran hired by the U.S. Department of Labor to create employment programs for returning veterans. He later served on the Government Operations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, which had authority to oversee all federal programs, and helped establish the first White House Conference on Small Business. Later, Clark became the executive assistant to the undersecretary of Energy and more recently headed congressional relations for the National Assn. of Home Builders.

Clark was asked why he had left the builders' group to form the United Homeowners Assn. "As a homeowner with seven children, I felt vulnerable. I don't want them all living with me until they're 40 and neither do they," he chuckled.

"Unfortunately, many of the decisions being made are making it harder for people to own homes or keep the homes they have. The economic investment in homeownership is staggering and most acutely felt by the young."

UHA objectives are backed by a board of directors and advisers that include former House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O' Neill and Michael Sumichrast, former chief economist of the National Assn. of Home Builders.

Another board member is Robert L. O'Rourke, who heads the public relations department for Caltech in Pasadena.

"I was glad to lend my expertise to the group because there was a crying need to have a collective voice for homeowners in Washington," he said.

According to the association, 65 million homeowners in the United States and its territories spend about $200 billion a year on mortgage interest alone, with an additional $100 million going toward home improvements, maintenance and repair.

"Homeowners have no idea what's going on in Washington or how Congress is going to treat them in terms of equity loans, principal residence deduction and other decisions that directly affect them," Clark said. "Our goal is to get the homeowner in the driver's seat, and help prevent a lot of accidents down the road," said Clark, who hopes to have a membership of 250,000 by the end of 1992.

Views expressed by new members on their applications for membership reflect specific concerns relating to the physical and financial security of their homes, the growing lack of affordability facing their children and grandchildren, the escalating tax demands of federal, state and local governments and a wide range of property-related issues.

"Homeownership is shelter and, if possible, should be made available to all; the true cost of the American Dream is important," noted one couple.

"I'm concerned that the 55-and-over tax-free capital gain will be taken away in the future," said a new member.

"If I am kept updated on what's going on in Washington, I can put my vote to better use," wrote another applicant.

Cheryl Roberts, a Coldwell Banker realtor from Santa Paula, said she read about the new association in a publication of the California Assn. of Realtors.

"Homeowners need representation and I'm glad to be a member. I'm urging clients and friends to join."

Clark stated that for the first time since the 1930s, the rate of homeownership has taken a dip. Figures from the 1990 Census show 64.2% own their homes, down from 64.4% in 1980. The Census Bureau survey also found that only 9% of the nation's renters are able to afford to buy a home. Potential home buyers have already been priced out of certain higher-priced markets.

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