Mayor Marion Barry vetoed legislation yesterday that would temporarily strip the District's Housing Finance Agency of its authority to approve mortgage revenue bonds, and a City Council committee promptly recommended the council override the veto.
Some council members were sharply critical of the mayor's action, saying that the mayor strongly influences the policy set by the finance agency and does not want to lose that power. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who sponsored the legislation, said the council has enough votes to override the veto and predicted that action will come next week.
" . . . You personally have been in much too much control of the agency," Jarvis wrote Barry in response to the veto. "The time has come for that control to stop."
A two-thirds majority of the council members present and voting is needed to override the mayor's veto, the second in as many years. Yesterday, the council's five-member Committee on Housing and Community Development, which Jarvis heads, voted unanimously to recommend that the full council override the veto.
The legislation in question is an emergency bill requiring the Housing Finance Agency -- a quasi-independent body that has issued millions of dollars in tax-exempt mortgage revenue bonds under the direction of a nine-member board -- to obtain the council's approval before issuing any more bonds.
Council members said the finance agency, which has three board members who are part of the Barry administration, refused to set priorities geared to solving the shortage of housing for low- and moderate-income residents. The emergency legislation would allow the council to establish the policy, council members said.
The council has objected to the agency's decision to make low-interest loans available to second-time home buyers and to issue bonds for multifamily buildings that would no longer be under rent control once the bonds are issued.
In a letter to Council Chairman David A. Clarke, Barry called the agency's record "outstanding" and raised a string of objections to the legislation, including allegations that it is "cumbersome, unwarranted and may prompt a lower rating" for the finance agency's bonds.
"It is my strong belief," Barry wrote, "that having appointed a board consisting of individuals who have substantial expertise with respect to housing, supported by a staff of competent individuals, neither the council nor the executive ought to interfere with the agency's review and decision making process and negatively affect the production of housing."
Barry noted that the agency had issued $100 million in bonds and notes that have resulted in 1,427 multifamily units -- 1,067 for low-income families. He also said that by law, low-income persons will benefit from 15 percent of each housing project funded and 25 percent of the benefits for each two-year period.
Yesterday, the finance agency announced that it is making available $62.6 million in financing as part of a single-family mortgage program. The program would allow first-time home buyers to obtain mortgage loans at a 30-year fixed interest rate of 10.75 percent for cooperative share loans, condominiums, town houses and single-family properties. Council member John Wilson called the mayor's veto explanation "ridiculous."
Barry praised aspects of the new program as a demonstration of the agency's "aggressiveness and success in addressing the pressing housing needs of our city."
City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), however, said the question is not whether the agency has been involved in worthwhile projects but whether its overall policy is in the best interest of residents. Wilson called the mayor's veto explanation "ridiculous."
"It's a political question of whether or not the council approves what the agency does or whether the agency will continue to do what the mayor wants it to do," said Wilson. "The mayor sets the public policy for the agency . . . The policy is to facilitate activity for his personal friends and for businesses that are close to the administration. It doesn't have to have merit."
But Barry questioned the council's right to approve bond issuances by a resolution. Barry claimed that the action would be contrary to a joint council-executive agreement that settled a dispute over what actions the council could take by resolutions, a process that does not require the mayor's approval.
Clarke, however, said that the mayor's interpretation of the agreement appears to be an effort "to deter the council from reviewing the conduct of this government and stepping in where it feels it to be in the best interest of the city to do so."
Jarvis pointed out that the Home Rule Charter gives the council the authority to issue all revenue bonds and that the council could have moved to abolish the finance agency. "The council has a role in the government, Mr. Barry," Jarvis wrote, "contrary to your apparent view of all-consuming mayoral power."