Relations between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Democrats on the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs subcommittee on housing and community development, remain more cordial than relations between Iran and Iraq, but only slightly.
The two sides' views of the government's proper role in housing diverge so fundamentally that meaningful communication has all but ceased. And the department, often unable to get laws changed to suit it, has taken to imprinting its views on federal programs administratively, whenever it can.
Now the housing panel's majority is moving to end that. A significant portion of the housing bill it is marking up would eliminate the department's discretion and force it to inform the panel of changes in rules, regulations and procedures.
This has made HUD officials angrier than ever. One characterized it as "harassment." And Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr., in a letter two weeks ago to subcommittee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), said "the department strongly opposes" the whole bill.
Among provisions in the measure, sponsored by Gonzalez, are requirements that:
* HUD send to Congress all notices and handbooks or changes in handbooks at least 15 days before they are issued.
* HUD provide detailed summaries of all changes in rules, regulations, handbooks and the like that have been imposed by the Office of Management and Budget. "We just have the feeling that OMB is running HUD," said a subcommittee staff member.
* The department continue to collect racial and ethnic data on people served by its programs. The OMB has rejected a number of HUD forms that include questions to gather such information. Without it, the panel staffer said, "the foundations" of many programs would be eliminated.
* No public housing be demolished unless the local housing authority has devised a plan -- and the HUD secretary has agreed to fund it -- to provide for an equal number of replacement units.
* The fair-market rental rates for Section 8 assistance be increased each Oct. 1 to match increases in the formula that governs these rates. The department did not raise the rates last year and proposes not to do so this year. "This is part of their arsenal of boring from beneath" programs, the subcommittee staff member said.
* The department manage and dispose of assisted housing projects, or mortgages on them, in such a way as to preserve them as low-income housing. This is meant to address fears that HUD might allow such projects to go to developers who would turn them into higher-income rentals or condominiums.
The bill also authorizes further study of the housing voucher program and sets up a task force to assess the nation's family housing needs. The latter is designed to gather data on housing supply and demand. HUD has maintained that, except for shortages in certain areas, the nation's housing stock is adequate. Many of the committee's Democrats say they do not believe that.
Stephen May, assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said it is "unfortunate" that the bill has so many provisions that would be "unduly burdensome to the department in its effort to carry out the law." He added that department officials have been discussing the bill with the committee and that the bill contains some features that "show we are making some progress."
HUD has sent to the subcommittee nearly 90 pages of detailed comments on the bill, taking issue with large parts of it. The department even disputes the "Findings" and "Purpose" sections.
It calls the provisions requiring advance notification and summary on rule changes "a serious, unnecessary and wholly unwarranted intrusion" into internal department affairs. Indeed, HUD contends that an existing statute requiring advance notice of formal rule changes is unconstitutional.
The Democrats' lopsided advantage in the subcommittee and its parent Banking Committee makes it likely that the bill will reach the floor nearly intact.
After that, its fate is uncertain. The Senate is still in preliminary stages of drafting a bill, but, if it produces a measure, it will certainly be more to HUD's liking. A conference on the two could, as one housing industry lobbyist put it, "end up anywhere."
HELP WANTED . . . Shirley McVay Wiseman has resigned as general deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary in the department's Office of Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner.
Her departure leaves the office's top two positions vacant; no replacement has been named for Maurice Barksdale, who resigned as assistant secretary-federal housing commissioner in January. Sources indicate that the administration's choice for Barksdale's job is Lance H. Wilson, formerly Pierce's executive assistant, but the process is moving slowly. Wilson, an attorney, is president of the New York City Housing Development Authority, which issues tax-exempt bonds for the city's multifamily projects. Meanwhile, Janet Hale is acting assistant secretary.
-- Albert B. Crenshaw