Flying in the face of congressional budget-cutting efforts, the chairman of the House housing subcommittee is seeking to approximately double federal support for housing programs in the coming fiscal year.
The new version of H.R. 1, introduced by Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), would authorize a total of $22.3 billion for federally assisted housing in fiscal 1986, compared with outlays of just under $12 billion during this fiscal year.
Budget authority for programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development would total $18.8 billion, in contrast to the $9.5 billion spent this year, while rural and other housing-related programs would be authorized to spend just over $3 billion compared with $2.2 billion this year.
Gonzalez acknowledged this week that he is swimming against the tide, but pointed to the passage in the last Congress of a housing authorization bill when "they were telling us the same thing: 'It can't be done, it's a pipe dream.' "
"The question we face in Congress this year is whether or not there is a future for federal housing efforts. It's that simple," Gonzalez said in a speech Tuesday to the National Housing Conference here.
"This year, we either force the Reagan administration into a change of direction on housing policy, or there will be no meaningful federal housing programs for the forseeable future," he said.
A subcommittee staff member said that the panel will hold full-scale hearings in February or March and "then sit down and see what's passable" by the House. He said he expects to have a bill to the full Banking Committee by April and to the House by May.
Gonzalez indicated he thinks members in both the House and Senate may be reluctant to face their constituents next year after having failed to extend the federal housing programs.
But a Senate staff member said he thinks "any increase is unlikely, and the kind of increases in H.R. 1 are inconceivable" in the current fiscal climate. "And remember, you can't spend an authorization," he said. "You've got to have an appropriation. That's where the real fight is going to be this year."
This staffer indicated that members who are worried politically could go along with the authorization and bank on the money not being appropriated.
The new H.R. 1 would increase the number of federally assisted units to 283,605 from the current 174,730. It would allow construction of 16,000 public housing units, up from 5,000, and 3,000 units of Indian housing, up from 2,000.
It would eliminate the housing voucher program, which has been a favorite of the administration and HUD. This rent subsidy was designed to introduce a "shopping incentive" by allowing a family to keep the difference if it found an apartment renting for less than the ceiling. It also was supposed to increase recipients' choices by allowing a family to pay additional rent from its own pocket if it preferred a more expensive place.
The bill would retain the older Section 8 certificate program, boosting the number of units subsidized by it from 37,500 to 55,000.
The bill also would reinstate federal regulation of interest rates on loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Such regulation was repealed in 1983.
There are also two new programs in the measure. One would provide a total of $300 million for an emergency shelter program and a demonstration of nonprofit, longer-term aid to the homeless.
The other, patterned after the Nehemiah grants, a church-run program in New York, would provide seed money for nonprofit sponsors to build houses for sale to low- to moderate-income families. This authorization, for $300 million, would generate some 20,000 units.
Additional funding also is envisioned for such programs as urban homesteading, HUD research, the Solar Bank and weatherization.
"Certainly this will be called an ambitious bill, but the problems we are confronting require ambitious efforts," Gonzalez said. "Truthfully, however, this is an ambitious bill only in terms of the Reagan zero-level effort. This bill is in fact embarrassingly modest . . . in terms of past levels of effort."
He said that the increases still would leave the number of new federally assisted units 30 percent below the level of 1980.