More than 40 organizations ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Mortgage Bankers of America to the Presbyterian Church to the National Low Income Housing Coalition have written to the Senate urging prompt action on the housing authorization bill.

In a memorandum addressed this week to "all members of the U.S. Senate," the organizations said that "it has been three years since Congress enacted a major housing bill," and they urged the senators to pass the current measure before the July recess "so that the significant differences that exist between the House and Senate bills can be ironed out in conference later in the summer."

The organizations termed the Senate bill "a modest but essential step forward" that is "urgently needed to maintain this nation's commitment to meeting its housing and community development needs."

Both the Senate and House banking committees have reported out a housing authorization bill, but neither has come to the floor. The Senate bill provides $17.6 billion in budget authority; the House, $23.6 billion. The major dollar difference is in the area of low-income assisted housing, where the House would provide $13 billion and the Senate $7.6 billion.

However, there are other important differences, including the question of a housing voucher program--the Senate provides for one, but the House doesn't--and production and renovation of low-income housing units.

Committee staff members on both sides anticipate a difficult conference at best, and some observers are beginning to feel that there could be a repeat of last year when the authorization did not pass.

The memorandum to the Senate seemed to reflect this alarm.

"Our organizations approach housing and community development from a number of perspectives," it said. "In fact, none of us endorses each and every specific provision of S.1338 the Senate bill . But we unite in a shared sense of urgency about the importance of passing housing legislation. . . ."

"Our homes and our neighborhoods shape our family and community life. In turn, the housing and community development programs contained in S.1338 shape what local institutions--public and private--are able to do to build, finance and maintain our housing and our communities," it said.

Among the other signers of the memorandum were the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Institute of Architects, Americans for Democratic Action, the National Association of Home Builders, the National League of Cities and the National Urban League.