WASHINGTON With time running out in the legislative session, top housing lawmakers and dozens of public interest groups last week urged the Senate leadership to bring the housing, reauthorization bill to a vote as quickly as possible.

Swift passage by the Senate is needed, they said, to give House and Senate conferees enough time to hammer out a final package before Congress adjourns next month. The House passed its version of the measure in July.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, four senators pledged to make sure the Senate would not be forced to spend a large amount of time dealing with numerous amendments to the measure. - "This important legislaiton will enjoy bipartisan support on the Senate floor and we intend to work hard to, minimize the amount of floor time that this legislation will require," the senators said.

The letter was signed by Donald Riegle, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over housing matters. Also signing the letter were Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y.. the ranking Republican on the panel: Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., the chairman of the committee's subcommittee on housing and urban affairs; and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., the subcommittee's top Republican.

In a separate action, a group of 61 organizations with an interest in the housing bill wrote to each senator urging that the measure come to a vote as soon as possible.

The housing bill contains a number of important changes to present law, and "the opportunity to move forward in these areas must not be missed," the groups said in their letter.

The groups signing the letters include the National Council of State Housing Agencies, Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties.

John T. McEvoy, the executive director of the national housing agencies council, said he was "enthusiastic about the quality and the size of the response" from the organizations. He said that he is optimistic about the housing bill's chances because Mitchell now says the measure is among the top items he wants passed before the end of the session.

The housing bill would reauthorize dozens of federal programs set to expire Sept. 30, including the HOME program and the Community Development Block Grant program. Action in the Senate ground to a halt in August when a protracted debate over health care reform legislation kept other measures from coming to the floor.

If Congress fails to pass the reauthorization bill, existing programs would still continue to be funded under separate appropriations legislation. But the reauthorization measure contains new programs and changes to existing programs that could not be implemented without its passage.

For example, the House and Senate versions of the bill would extend the life of a risk-sharing pilot program, due to expire at the end of 1995, which is testing the idea of permitting state and local governments to share with the Department of Housing and Urban Development the risk of insuring multifamily housing loans.

In addition, the House version would revamp the Section 8 rent subsidy program in a way that is expected to give participating multifamily housing project owners a more reliable stream of payments and thus a better credit rating on their taxexempt debt.

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