The fate of legislation that would effectively end the home mortgage lending freeze in the District of Columbia remained confused last night as Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) continued to insist on coupling relief legislation with his measure to curb the D.C. City Council's emergency legislative authority.
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and representatives of the mortgage banking and realty industries here all told Eagleton at a two-hour hearing yesterday that inclusion of his proposal would delay the passage of legislation that would allow city home buyers once again to settle on their mortgage loans and lenders to make new loans.
Eagleton vehemently assailed the council's repeated passage of emergency legislation. He said he plans to proceed with his proposal and tack it on to a House-passed bill that would allow a new 15 percent mortgage rate ceiling to go into effect immediately in the District of Columbia, thus lifting the freeze on mortgage lending.
Eagleton, the chairman of the Senate governmental Affairs subcommittee on the District of Columbia, repeatedly chided the city council. In the nearly five years of its existence, the Council has passed 334 emergency bills and 305 permanent pieces of legislation, and Eagleton aide said.
Eagleton derisively noted that the council 11 times passed emergency bills dealing with ice cream vendors.
"Wow! What an emergency!" Eagleton exclaimed at one point and later demanded of Dixon: "Can you think in your experience of any ice cream vendors' emergency?"
The city council chairman told Eagleton that the ice cream vendor bills would have to be studied to figure out what the emergency was. Dixon later told a reporter that he thought the bills had to do with refrigeration regulations that had to be passed quickly so that the vendors could work on the Mall during the summer tourist season.
The freeze on virtually all mortgage lending in the city was prompted by a decision last month by D.C. Superior Court Judge George H. Revercomb invalidating the city's moratorium on condiminium because the city council twice had passed emergency legislation on the issue.
Revercomb's ruling did not deal with the city's mortgage interest rate ceiling. But soon afterwards the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac) cut off their purchase of mortgages in the city on grounds that the council's second emergency mortgage rate legislation might be illegal because of Revercomb's 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 biggest source of mortgage dollars here. After individual borrowers receive their loans from savings and loan institutions and mortgage banking firms, these institutions often then sell the loans to other secondary investors, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The local lenders then use all that money to make new loans.
Thomas J. Owen, president of Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan Association, the city's largest savings and loan said the funding cutoff has delayed settlements on 603 loans totaling $39 million from the city's 16 S&Ls. Walter L. Mess, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Metropolitan Washington, estimated that $30 million in loans from mortgage banking firms may have been delayed.
In an effort to solve the funding cutoff, the city council last week passed a "permanent" 15 percent mortgage rate ceiling. The legislation now under consideration on Capitol Hill would -- in this instance only - waive the normal 30-day congressional review of the new city laws and allow the mortgage rate legislation to go into effect immediately.
The waive passed the House on Tuesday. But Eagleton says he intends to amend it to include his provision. It would prohibit the council from passing emergency legislation more than once on any single issue, unless there were new factors requiring it, and would also limit the life of such legislation to 180 days.
Malcolm E. Peabody, a board member of the Washington Board of Realtors, Mess, Barry and Dixon all urged Eagleton to separate the waiver from his proposal.
Barry, a former council member, said he supports the right of the council 'to enact a number of emergencies, even 10 times."
The city is appealing Revercomb's decision, but Eagleton said it would be 'asinine" to wait for an appellate ruling before acting to curb the council's use of the emergency powers.
"I bet dollars to doughnuts Judge Revercomb is upheld," Eagleton said.
Barry, who left shortly after his testimony, told a reporter, "I find it very unusual that a lawyer would conclude what a court is going to do. That's troublesome."
Eagleton said he would confer with Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, about his proposal.
Mathias' office announced that he opposes the Eagleton amendment, while favoring a quick, separate study of the council's use of emergency legislation.
It was unclear last night how the two senators would solve their differences.