President Reagan has created a high-level task force on housing, consisting of Cabinet members and top White House officials, with a mandate to come up with new ideas by March 31 on helping the devastated housing industry.
The White House has not announced the decision, but Reagan agreed to form the new ad hoc working group at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, an administration source said. At that meeting, Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce made a presentation on the dilemma of the industry and proposed establishment of the new group.
Pierce will be chairman of the task force, which will include Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, Agriculture Secretary John Block, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman and presidential advisers Edwin Meese III and James A. Baker III.
Asked how the group differs from the Cabinet council that deals with housing issues, an administration official said the task force will be "very concentrated" and will deal with housing on a "one-shot basis." It is to disband March 31.
The housing industry is in a shambles, with both homes sales and housing starts at about half their level of three years ago. Figures released by the Commerce Department yesterday showed that housing starts for January were at an annual rate of 894,000 units, the sixth consecutive month the rate has fallen below one million. Starts for all of 1981 were at 1.1 million units, their lowest level since 1946, and the National Association of Home Builders said yesterday the figure would be even worse this year.
The home builders, who a year ago were supporting the Reagan administration's economic recovery program, this year have abandoned hope that the program will help their industry and have called on the administration to provide it with an emergency stimulus program such as one providing large interest-rate subsidies.
This kind of a program is unlikely to emerge from the new task force, which is charged with finding assistance that is "consistent with the president's economic recovery program," an official said. A major element of that program is sharp budget cuts in programs that assist housing.
Last year Reagan created the President's Commission on Housing to develop ways to help the industry. So far, many of the housing commission's recommendations have focused on revitalizing the savings and loan industry, which traditionally has financed home mortgages. That group is to produce a final report in April.