Which came first, the commission or the administration policy?

While top policy-makers at the Department of Housing and Urban Development say they are waiting anxiously for the recommendations of the President's Commission on Housing before establishing new policy, the commission's preliminary findings bear an uncanny resemblance to previous and current utterances at HUD.

Take, for example, the proposed voucher system for low-income persons. The commission recommends this direct-assistance approach to replace construction subsidy programs, particularly Section 8 low-income housing construction.

HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, meanwhile, announced the administration's intention to propose just that--shortly before the commission took its vote this week on its draft report.

Of course, the commission had endorsed vouchers earlier. But then again, so had HUD, in its proposals for the fiscal 1983 budget submitted to the Office of Management and Budget in September.

Much of the rest of the commission's preliminary report is basic housing philosophy, which also closely parallels the free-market approach to housing espoused by HUD's top echelon.

"Federal government actions to address housing problems have not been notably successful. As inflation has worsened, the government has tried to mitigate its impact on housing through various credit and other programs . . . and to channel a greater volume of funds into the mortgage markets, instead of dealing with the fundamental problem," the report states.

Federally backed mortgage credit or lack thereof is a major issue this year. The administration wants to cut back sharply on federal credit programs; so does the commission.

While promising a more thorough look at the Federal Home Administration mortgage insurance programs for its final report next year, the commission says its goal is to identify what housing sectors FHA would have to continue to serve so the government can make "an orderly transition towards a greater reliance on private sector financial markets."

On the controversial issue of tax-exempt mortgage revenue bonds, the commission availed itself of an age-old approach to side-stepping: another task force. But when the task force's task force meets, it will know that its parent group "considered" three options for state and local tax-exempt financing, including continued use of the bonds or direct federal bond subsidies.

(At first the commission report boldly stated that the panel "proposes" three possibilities, but members later decided it had merely "considered" them.)

The commission points out that it did not attempt to make recommendations in its preliminary report on the fundamental issues of housing construction and housing finance. Proposals in those areas will be in the panel's final report in April.

Of course, by then President Reagan will already have proposed his fiscal 1983 budget and the programs he thinks the country can afford through more than the first half of his term.