President Reagan will propose measures to help the housing industry in the next few weeks, presidential counsellor Edwin Meese said yesterday. However, a White House spokesman later explained that Meese merely meant that "within the next couple of weeks the administration will be looking at ways to stimulate the housing industry."
"There is no timetable for actions," spokesman Larry Speakes said.
Spokesmen at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and at the President's Commission on Housing, as well as housing industry representatives contacted yesterday, were at a loss to explain what Meese might have been referring to. The industry representatives said it is highly unlikely that any major boost for housing is under active consideration.
Meese, speaking at a breakfast with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in answer to a question about the housing slump, "We have a series of measures that are under consideration." He added, "You'll be seeing some specific action on that in the next two or three weeks by the president."
The best thing for the housing industry would be to bring down interest rates, Meese told the breakfast audience. He was at first reported as saying the administration planned to take action on mortgage interest rates. But White House spokesman David Gergen later said that there are no "plans . . . that we will announce to bring down interest rates," but that the White House will be working over the "next two to three weeks on plans to assist the housing industry."
But industry members and other private analysts said they have little hope that much would come of these deliberations. "It doesn't appear there is anything but presidential handwringing," said one.
Michael Sumichrast, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, referred to the administration's recent criticism of Federal Reserve Board actions keeping the money supply tight when he made a wry guess on what a "plan" to bring rates down might be: "The plan is that they are going to buy a big club and hit Fed Chairman Paul Volcker over the head with it."