A state housing panel this week urged Gov. Harry Hughes and Maryland legislators to create an independent state housing finance authority.

The weak economy and cutbacks in federal housing aid have combined to heighten low-income citizens' need for housing, according to Ruth Keeton, head of the housing task force and chairman of the Howard County Council. The state's Department of Economic and Community Development, which administers housing activities now, "has a history of poor performance and lack of commitment to its housing programs," Keeton said.

The task force recommended that an independent agency be governed by a board of directors and empowered to build, finance and manage housing for Maryland families who cannot afford housing costs in the private market.

Other recommendations are for steps that would increase the amount of money available for housing and salary increases so that experienced workers could be hired and retrained. A survey shows that the pay of Maryland housing workers lags far behind that of employes of comparable agencies in other states, the task force said.

Another resolution urged state officials to prevent passage of legislation that would restrict local governments from using tax-exempt financing for housing.

Hughes has extended the life of the task force so that the group can follow up on implementation of its recommendations, and perhaps help write legislation to be introduced in the current session of the General Assembly.