WASHINGTON -- Congress has cleared legislation that would allocate $1 billion to the HOME program in 1993, while lawmakers are rushing to complete work this week on a bill that would reauthorize the housing affordability program.
The $1 billion figure, approved by both houses on Friday, is a decrease from the $1.5 billion allocated to the program last year and proposed this year by the Senate. But housing lobbyists said the amount is substantially higher than the House's proposal for $600 million.
"In light of the difficulties of a tight budget, relatively speaking we didn't do badly," said Reggie Todd, the chief executive officer of the National Community Development Association. "This is a new program and so Congress is more cautious in terms of funding it."
Created in December 1990, the HOME program requires the federal government to match state and local governments' contribution to low-income rental and home ownership projects.
The 1993 HOME allocation is part of a larger appropriations bill covering the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Veterans Administration, and various independent agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The bill now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign and measure.
Several weeks ago Mr. Bush had threatened to veto the bill because the overall spending level in the House version was too high. But housing lobbyists said the President is now willing to accept the bill because conferees trimmed it back and agreed to fund a space station project he supports.
The housing industry is fortunate Congress did not cut back even further on the HOME appropriation, lobbyists said. The HOME program has had difficulty getting off the ground, mainly because the HUD's initial attempt at writing regulations for the program produced a confusing set of rules, the lobbyists said. They added that HUD has been slow to update the rules, and has yet to publish a final version.
"Congress could have said, ~what we're hearing is that this program is flawed, so why are we going to fund as flawed program?" said John C. Murphy, the executive director of the Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies.
With spending decisions out of the way, housing lawmakers now turn to completing legislation to reauthorize the HOME program and to repair some of the flaws that state and local government officials have found in the Housing Department's rules.
A conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate reauthorization bills began yesterday. Conferees will be racing against the clock to complete the bill because Congress is expected to adjourn Monday or Tuesday.
One of the issues to be resolved in the conference is whether to allow state and local governments to count their private-activity bond issues toward contributions they make to HOME that are eligible for federal matching funds.
HUD considers governmental bonds to be eligible contributions, but has said that private-activity bonds should not be counted toward the match. The House bill would allow state and local governments to count 100% of their multifamily and mortgage bond issuances toward the match, while the Senate bill would permit 10% of multifamily issuances to be eligible. Under the Senate bill, mortgage bonds would not be eligible.