A House subcommittee yesterday approved a $760 million program to provide aid to families in danger of losing their homes through foreclosure.
The measure, which the Reagan administration strongly opposes, is aimed primarily at people who have lost their jobs because of the recession, but also includes anyone who has "incurred a substantial reduction in income as a result of circumstances beyond his control."
Foreclosures have been rising steadily as the recession has deepened, especially in the hard-hit northeastern and midwestern industrial states. Nationally, the number of foreclosures is the highest since the mid-1960s.
"The need for help is real . . . and of substantial proportions," said Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the House subcommittee on housing and community development and one of the measure's sponsors.
Republicans on the panel, while agreeing, in the words of ranking minority member Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.), that the problem has "reached crisis proportions," objected to the proposal as too expensive, too cumbersome and likely to provide government help to people who don't really need it. Led by Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie (R-Ohio), ranking minority member of the parent Banking Committee, they offered a series of restrictive amendments, which were rejected largely along party lines.
Under the bill, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would take over mortgage payments for financially troubled homeowners for up to three years. Homeowners would contribute up to 38 percent of their income--after such expenses as real estate taxes, insurance and utilities--and HUD would pay the rest.
HUD's payments would come in the form of a loan to the homeowner, secured by a lien on the house, and would be paid off on a flexible schedule geared to the homeowner's income.
The program's backers regard it as a temporary, emergency measure, and it would be open only to those persons who, in the judgment of the HUD secretary, have a reasonable prospect of being able to resume payments on their mortgages and of repaying the government.
The program would be activated whenever mortgage delinquency rates, either nationally or regionally, reached a certain level. Were the program already on the books, it would have been triggered in 1981 and would still be in effect.
HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr., in testimony last week, "strongly urged" the panel to reject the bill. He argued that President Reagan's policies are taking hold, the recession is ending, and people are going back to work. He noted that many lenders are holding off from moving to foreclosure, and that such forebearance is accomplishing what the bill seeks at no cost to the government.
Republican members of the Housing subcommittee echoed those concerns yesterday, arguing that the measure, by guaranteeing the lender his money, would encourage foreclosures. Rep. Dave Dreier (R-Calif.) termed the bill "nothing more than an incentive to foreclosure."
Gonzalez conceded that the economic outlook "is more optimistic than has been true up to now," but he said, "it will take quite a bit of time before the economy really is truly healthy and stabilized . . . . The bill we're marking up today recognized the fact that it's a long way between a forecast and the reality of the forecast. And it's a long way between leading economic indicators and money to pay the mortgage on a house that's about to be lost."