The Senate Banking Committee completed work this week on a standby measure to help middle-income families buy homes and spur housing construction during a recession.
The measure, introduced last month by housing subcommittee chairman Harrison Williams (D-N.J.), revives and updates a six-year old program to provide federally subsidized mortgages.
The administration supports the program, but has refused to set a target date for implementing the plan. If Congress reactivates the plan, the final decision on implementing it is up to the secretary of housing.
HUD Secretary Moon Landrieu told the Senate housing subcommittee recently, "The administration's policy is that housing must not be made to bear a disproportionate burden as a result of contractions in the overall economy."
But since there must be a slowing in the economy in order to cool inflation, Landrieu said general economic factors must be considered in addition to housing starts, sales and mortgage rates before triggering the federal housing aid.
The bill, as approved Wednesday, updates the subsidy plan by lifting the current $48,000 limit on the sale price of a house to 90 percent of the average cost of a house in a certain area. It also lifts mortgage limitations.
Williams estimated the bill will provide mortgages for up to 150,000 units.
He said he expects final Senate action on the bill in March. The House Banking Committee has not taken any action yet.
The committee, which is responsible for mortgage and housing laws, also heard testimony this week on the renewal of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The 1975 law, designed to document and discourage redlining by lending institutions, expired in June.
Under the law, banks and thrift institutes must make public data on the number and dollar amounts of mortgage and home improvement loans made in each neighborhood.
A recent study for the committee showed that both civic groups and regulators use the information as a barometer for measuring compliance in community investment requirements and as a guideline for targetng fair housing funds.
The study also suggested that perhaps the statements should be kept at a central location, rather than each firm, eliminating the necessity for those who want the data to visit each firm.
At a hearing inner-city community organizations and federal financial regulators supported the act, which is designed to curtail redlining by exposing discriminatory lending practices to public scrutiny.
Redlining is the name given to a systematic refusal to make mortgage loans (or write insurance) in a designated area thought to be deteriorating -- even though individual applicants for the area are credit-worthy and the properties habitable.
Information on loans made in each census tract is often the basis for determining whether a lending institution is in compliance with the Community Reinvestment act, which requires the lender to make mortgage loans available in an entire urban area, not just the affluent suburbs.
Rosetta parker of the Neighborhoods Uniting Project, located in Mt. Rainier, told the committee that the disclosure law had been instrumental in getting two large financial institutions in the Washington area to try to step up their lending in moderate-income areas of Prince Georgeg's County.