The Senate voted yesterday to curtail housing aid to the District of Columbia, New York and other cities that practice rent control as it approved legislation that goes further even than President Reagan proposed in curbing the government's fast-growing housing programs for the poor.
Voting 65 to 24, the Senate sent to the House a two-year, $42 billion extension of the basic housing laws that would on the one hand restrain future growth of the subsidized housing program and on the other, significantly loosen federal controls over how community development money is spent.
It also calls for tenants of subsidized housing to pay up to 30 percent of their incomes for rent instead of the current 25 percent.The increase would be phased in over five years.
"We no longer can afford programs of unlimited federal assistance to growing numbers of American citizens," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) in leading the Senate to an easy victory for Reagan and his budget-cutting supporters on the first major domestic reauthorization bill to reach the floor of either house this year.
Democratic critics protested in vain that the Senate was retreating from a half-century commitment to better housing for low- to moderate-income families, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) voiced a lonely protest over the rent control provision, accusing the Republicans of thwarting local autonomy at the same time they were claiming to expand it.
"Suddenly, inexplicably, the federal government that wants to stop telling people what to do in their home towns is telling them what to do," Moynihan complained. But Lugar argued that rent controls by discouraging investment contribute to a shortage of rental housing and said it would be "throwing good money after bad" to put federal money into communities that engage in the practice of controlling rents.
Moynihan so obviously lacked the votes to affect the outcome that he didn't even call for a vote on rent control.
The rent control provision would prohibit rental subsidy money for the poor, under the largest of the housing programs, called Section 8, from going to any jurisdiction that imposes rent controls on newly built or newly vacant housing units. It would affect about 200 cities, including the District and New York.
The House approved a similar proposal during the last Congress, but its Banking Committee refused to do so again during preliminary work on its version of the housing bill last month. Banking Committee Democrats are scheduled today to unveil their proposed program cutbacks, which are expected to be less severe than the Senate's and to exclude the rent control provision.
The Senate bill authorizes funds for 150,000 new and rehabilitated units of both public housing and rent-subsidized housing -- 25,000 fewer than Reagan proposed and 110,000 fewer than former President Carter recommended before leaving office.
The government's housing programs for the poor are now the third-largest of all welfare programs, behind only Medicaid and food stamps. Their cost is more than $8 billion a year.
Over protests from Democrats, the Senate also stripped away some of the strings that had been attached to community development programs and created a small-scale model of the type of no-strings block grants that the administration wants to substitute for existing categorical grants in other fields. While the bigger block grants are in trouble, this one -- which pulls together programs for small cities and lets state and local officials take them over -- sailed through.
But the bill departs from Reagan's script in keeping Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG) as a separate program, with $500 million authorized for each of the next two years. Reagan wanted to include UDAG in the existing community development block grant program by 1983.
The vote to strip away the restrictions on community development grants was 53 to 37. On the final 65-to-24 vote to approve the bill, Republicans held ranks. Only Democrats --and barely a majority of them -- opposed the bill. Among Washington-area senators, John W. Warner (R-Va.) voted for the bill and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) voted against it. The others did not vote.