A nonpartisan task force of 26 prominent housing leaders from throughout the nation was formed this week in an attempt to grapple with what its members are calling a crisis in the country's ability to provide adequate and affordable housing for low- and moderate-income individuals.

The National Housing Task Force will report directly to the Senate subcommittee on housing, whose chairman, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), is seeking a consensus on new housing legislation.

"The problem of finding affordable housing is intensifying for most Americans," Cranston said at a Capitol Hill news conference announcing the formation of the task force. "Housing needs to be brought back to a high priority."

Cranston said some form of housing legislation is desperately needed to offset six years of Reagan administration budget cuts in federal housing programs. He said the task force, which will meet at least twice a week over the next three months, has been asked to suggest possible steps Congress can take to address the housing crunch, as well as recommending possible funding measures.

The new housing task force joins the growing list of groups being formed by various real estate industry groups to lobby Congress on the issue. Groups representing mortgage bankers, home builders and realty agents have already suggested various housing measures they believe should be enacted, although the new National Housing Task Force, with its congressional backing, may carry the most political weight.

Warren Lasko, executive vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, said he welcomes the task force. "The more consensus built in advance, the better chance in getting new laws passed," he said.

James Rouse, a prominent Washington area developer whose projects include development of the town of Columbia, Md., and Baltimore's Harborplace, will serve as the housing task group's chairman.

David O. Maxwell, chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), is vice chairman of the group, which consists of developers, bankers, city housing leaders and representatives from low-income housing advocacy groups.

Cranston said he hopes to introduce housing legislation early next year, which he said would "perhaps be vetoed" by Reagan. Nonetheless, Cranston said the introduction of a housing bill "would set the stage and create issues" that would be stressed in next year's presidential and congressional campaigns.

Cranston said he would push Congress to enact a final housing bill sometime in 1989.

The task force has been charged with examining a wide range of housing issues, including the increasing problem of homelessness, low-income housing opportunities and solutions to the financial difficulties faced by moderate-income home buyers.

Cranston has been joined in his legislative efforts by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), the conservative ranking minority member of the housing subcommittee.

"This nation is indeed in a crisis {for} providing affordable housing," D'Amato said, adding that he also wants the task force to study the dilemma facing the American middle-class, particularly young families, who increasingly are unable to keep up with housing prices.

"The dream of home ownership is one that can no longer be attained by the vast majority {of Americans}. Families with $25,000 to $40,000 {annual} incomes are simply priced out of the market," D'Amato said. "The problem has gone well beyond those who the government has traditionally zeroed-in on."

Cranston agreed. "We all know the needs extend to beyond just poor people," he said.

Cranston and D'Amato said they realize that federal budget constraints will play a significant role in determining the shape of any new housing programs.

"We recognize the federal budget deficit makes it very difficult to come up with a lot of federal money," said Cranston.

He said that up to a million low-income, federally supported housing units could be lost over the next 10 years because of cutbacks in federal housing assistance programs.

Rouse, who served on a housing panel formed by President Eisenhower in 1953, said his group "is not looking at anyone to blame," but is searching instead for answers to housing problems.

He said he also recognized the various interests represented on the task force could lead to differences.

"We're not going to begin with a lists of hates that we have to get rid of, but how to make housing work," Rouse said. "We don't care about reaching a complete consensus. Minority views will go into the report {to be submitted to the housing subcommittee}. No one will be shut out."