The House passed legislation yesterday that would allow a permanent mortgage interest rate to go into effect in the District of Columbia, an action moving the city one step closer toward lifting the freeze on mortgage lending here.
The measure now goes to the Senate. But its fate is clouded by an effort by Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) to curb the D.C. City Council's emergency legislative authority as part of the legislation to set the maximum mortgage interest rate at 15 percent.
Eagleton scheduled a hearing this afternoon on his proposal, which would prohibit the City Council from using its emergency legislative powers more than once on any single issue and limit the life of such legislation to 180 days.
Eagleton said he is proposing the restriction on the council's use of its emergency legislative powers because the council is "tacking an emergency label on a lot of legislation that is patently nonemergency."
Since the council was created five years ago under the city's limited form of home rule, the council has passed 334 emergency bills, many of them several times each, compared to 305 permanent pieces of legislation, an Eagleton aide said.
The council has passed 92 emergency measures among the 133 pieces of legislation it has approved this dealing with mortgage interest rates. It is the council's use of that power that has led to the current effort to get Congress to waive its ordinary 30-day review period, on a one-time-only basis, for the permanent mortgage rate legislation the council passed last week.
D.C. Superior Court Judge George H. Revercomb ruled last month that the council illegally used its emergency legislative authority when it 10 times approved a moratorium on condominium conversions.
Although the ruling did not deal with mortgage interest rates in the city, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., (Freddie Mac) cut off their purchase of any mortgages in the city on grounds that the council's second emergency mortgage rate legislation might be illegal because of the Revercomb decision.
Together, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide about 11 percent of the home loan money in the city, $84.4 million in the first nine months this year, the single highest source here of mortgage dollars. After individual borrowers receive their loans from savings and loan associations and mortgage banking firms, these institutions often sell the loans to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and then in turn use that money to make more loans to home buyers.
The funding cutoff has virtually halted all mortgage transactions in the city as most lending institutions have stopped making new loans and delayed settlements on already committed loans. It also has created a new problem for a housing industry here that already was beset by a scarcity of mortgage money and record-high interest rates of more than 14 percent.
If Congress passes the waiver of the congressional review of the 15 percent mortgage rate ceiling, lenders then could start making new loans and closing deals on existing loan commitments. The House passed the review waiver on a voice vote with only a handful of members of the floor and only one audible negative vote.
One of the measure's chief sponsors, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), said he opposes Eagleton's effort to attach the proposed curb on the city council's use of emergency legislative powers to the mortgage rate bill.
The District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate said that if Eagleton were to forego his proposal Fauntroy would hold hearings on what changes ought to be made in the council's emergency legislative authority. But Fauntroy said that it would take too long to get the congressional review waiver passed if the Eagleton amendment is tacked onto the House passed bill. w