A congressional effort to help financially distressed homeowners avoid foreclosures on their mortgages has ignited a firestorm of protest from the lending industry, which last week escalated its effort to kill the proposal.

The proposal, which is part of the housing authorization bill passed last month by the House of Representatives, would provide $30 million for counseling services to homeowners in financial trouble, and require lenders to give many owners six months to get back on their feet before foreclosing on loans. Help would be available to people who have lost their jobs or whose incomes have dropped through no fault of their own.Delinquent homeowners could apply for help when they are 90 days delinquent in mortgage payments. Once an owner asks for help, the lender would be prohibited from foreclosing for six months.

Housing counselors, advocacy groups and some members of Congress applauded the measure as being long overdue, but powerful industry groups blitzed the House of Representatives and Senate last week with letters of protest and requests for personal meetings with members.

The House has been trying for many years to "work out some sort of legislative remedy" to slow the growing number of mortgage foreclosures, particularly in areas "where Americans are losing their homes through economic conditions beyond their control," said Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) when he introduced the amendment during congressional debate on the housing bill.

Traficant, a former sheriff who once went to jail for refusing to sign eviction orders against unemployed workers in the economically depressed Youngstown area, said his plan would be less costly than past proposals because it would use the services of a growing number of housing counseling organizations across the country.

Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the housing subcommittee of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, praised the proposal as a "well-tailored bit of legislation."

Sister Kate McDonald, head of Housing Counseling Services in Washington, which has been helping District homeowners since 1972, said that while the bill has some drawbacks, it is "very important" because it would cover many types of mortgages and "give us time to work with families and for families to get back on their feet."

However, Warren Lasko, executive vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, said Traficant's legislation "is really a devastating amendment" that would "drive a good number of lenders out of business and drain the capital of a lot of others."

The mortgage bankers' group is one of eight associations representing banks, savings and loans, home builders and real estate salespeople that signed the letter opposing the amendment. The Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, both secondary mortgage market institutions, also signed the letter.

The industry opponents said the legislation would cause mortgage costs to rise, increase claims against the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration insurance and guaranty programs, and cut off credit to "marginally creditworthy borrowers." The letter argued that individual lenders already "counsel extensively and forbear even longer than 90 days on loans that can be worked out."

Under the proposal, foreclosure forbearance would be available to homeowners when "the {lender} is federally chartered or the home is federally guaranteed or insured." This means the majority of homeowners in the nation would be eligible for help because most home mortgages are either insured by the Federal Housing Administration or Veterans Administration, issued by federally insured banks or savings and loans, or purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, one expert said.

Traficant argued, in introducing the bill, that it would be "at least revenue neutral" and probably save the government money because foreclosures on federally insured loans cost the Department of Housing and Urban Development about $18,000 each.

He cited the HOPE Program, a counseling service operating in Pennsylvania, as an example of what could be accomplished. HOPE helps troubled homeowners by analyzing their financial situations, developing family budgets, negotiating payment plans with mortgage lenders and other creditors and providing employment training and counseling and emergency food when needed. HUD has provided funds to HOPE to demonstrate what the organization can accomplish, and so far the counseling has saved the department $879,000 by helping homeowners avoid foreclosures, according to an evaluation of the program.

The Reagan administration will not make any "public statements" about the legislation but "in the past we have opposed similar provisions," said Edwin P. Dale, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

The Senate housing bill does not contain a counseling and foreclosure relief measure but backers hope the House amendment will be included in legislation that emerges from a House-Senate conference committee, which is expected to begin work soon.