Well done, Oliver Carr! The country needs more private-sector developers with clout who care about housing for lower-income people {Close to Home, Jan. 10}.

And well done, Chester Hartman! The need for "an entire rethinking of the ways in which our society provides housing" has never been more evident {Close to Home, Jan. 24}.

Recognizing the problem and advocating a change of philosophy are the foundation for progress, but we cannot wait. We need to consider specific programs now.

For-profit housing developers have an important role, but the key is to better utilize experienced nonprofit housing developers with successful track records. Federal and state governments and business coalitions should give them the tools they need by providing direct capital grants and low- or no-interest loans.

Why? Because this is the most economic approach and has the longest-term effect. Costly incentives to attract investors are eliminated. We become better stewards of our investment in society because affordable units are guaranteed not just for the term of federal regulatory limitations, but forever by capitalizing on the purpose of nonprofit ownership. The debt burden and resale speculation that drive up costs are removed.

A major concern today is the potential loss of the existing housing stock for lower-income people. Even though the federal government has invested billions in subsidized housing, many units may be sold for market or luxury rentals or expensive condominiums when the contracts that kept rents low expire. Investors who received substantial benefits through tax deductions and depreciation expenses sell and take their profits.

If these units were owned by nonprofits, there would be no fiduciary responsibility to investors, only to mankind. There would be no sale that would force people onto the streets.

Will this cost money? Of course. But as the man says, "you can pay now" with affordable housing in quality communities, "or you can pay later" with broken families, homeless shelters, welfare programs and jails.

For some, housing is a symbol of having made it. For others, housing is a basic need for shelter. What good is it, I ask, for one to realize the symbol if another is without the basics?

VIRGINIA S. PETERS Executive Director Wesley Housing Development Corporation Alexandria