The House, beating back Republican-led attempts to gut the measure, yesterday passed a $760 million bill to provide government loans to homeowners faced with foreclosure because of the recession. The vote was 216 to 196.
The Reagan administration is strongly opposed to the legislation, which it regards as too expensive and unnecessary in light of improving economic conditions.
The bill was the third major anti-recession measure passed this year by the Democratic-controlled House, which has also approved legislation dealing with jobs and aid to farmers.
The housing measure, which Democratic supporters described as "compassionate" and opponents called "an administrative nightmare," would allow those who have suffered "substantial loss" of income "through no fault of their own" to obtain loans for as long as 36 months to cover mortgage payments.
Under its terms, the Department of Housing and Urban Development must determine that the homeowner has been delinquent for at least 90 days or that his lender has indicated intent to foreclose, and that there is a "reasonable prospect" that the homeowner could begin repaying within the 36 months. If the homeowner met that standard, he would be required to contribute 38 percent of his income--after adjustments for utilities, taxes and the like--and HUD would pay the rest of his monthly mortgage payment.
HUD's payments would be secured by a lien on the property, which the homeowner would be required to repay in installments, along with his regular mortgage, after getting back on his feet.
Foreclosures have been rising sharply for the last year, especially in the industrial states of the Northeast and Midwest, which have been hit hardest by the recession. Backers of the bill pointed out that about 230,000 families have lost homes to foreclosure in the last year.
"Long-term unemployment is still growing . . . . The issue today is whether we want to respond to this crying need that's burgeoning forth from our people or whether we turn our back on them," Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) said.
Opponents, however, cited estimates of the Congressional Budget Office and others indicating that $760 million would provide assistance to only 75,000 to 100,000 families, and they expressed fear that those not aided would sue, causing courts to turn the measure into a far more costly entitlement program. Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie (R-Ohio) also argued that, if the courts do not expand the program, Congress may. If some constituents are turned down for lack of funds while others have received assistance, "Boy, will your mail burn," he told colleagues. Wylie expressed concern that the trigger mechanism for the program is so sensitive that the program, billed as an emergency measure, would be in effect all the time in some parts of the country. He argued that it could ultimately cost the government $15 billion.
In alliance with Rep. Buddy Roemer (D-La.), Wylie offered a substitute that would have deleted most of the bill, leaving only a $100 million provision to assist the homeless and a provision calling on federal regulatory agencies to adopt a lenient policy toward lending institutions that exercise patience with borrowers in trouble.
Wylie and his allies charged that the bill would create "an incentive to foreclose" by in effect guaranteeing that a lender would get its money by foreclosing. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) called the measure a "cruel hoax" and added, "This bill isn't going to do anything for anybody."
He argued that regulatory relief for lenders proposed by Wylie would be a far more effective form of aid, which could be passed promptly "and on the president's desk in a couple of weeks." Democrats replied that the bill contains a provision for that relief, and wondered why, if forbearance is so common, there have been so many foreclosures.
The Wylie amendment was rejected, 220 to 197. Also rejected were GOP amendments that would have halved the authorization, prohibited spending under the bill if it added to the national deficit and required borrowers to seek assistance first under the bankruptcy code.
The Democrats made some concessions. Under a Gonzalez amendment, the program would be limited to homeowners with incomes of $20,000 or less and assets--not including the house--not exceeding $10,000.
A similar measure has been approved by the Senate Banking Committee as part of its main housing bill and is awaiting floor action.