WASHINGTON - Protracted Senate delays appear to have killed any chance of passing the comprehensive housing bill this year, lobbyists said yesterday.
"It's dead," said one lobbyists of the bill, which would reathorize dozens of federal housing programs, including the HOME and Community Development Block Grant programs, which expire today.
"This is pretty frustating," said John C. Murphy, the executive director of the Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies. "To see the bill fail at this late hour," largely because of partisan politics, "is quite disappointing."
The measure sailed through the House in July but hit a huge roadblock in the Senate in August. It and other measures were stalled by an extended debate over health care reform, which congressional leaders finally abandoned.
When Congress returned to work earlier this month from its August recess, Senate Republicans began blocking the housing bill along with the rest of the Democratic agenda.
There has been "a strategy at work denying most pieces of legislation" a vote in the Senate, Murphy said.
Now, with Congress little more than a week away from adjournment, housing staffers are saying that there is not enough time to pass the bill in the Senate, reconcile the House and Senate versions, and then send the final measure back to both chambers for a vote, according to lobbyists.
Failure to enact the reauthorization bill does not mean that HOME, block grants, and the other federal programs would stop functioning, because they will continue to be funded under a separate appropriations bill signed Wednesday by President Clinton.
But the reauthorization measure contained new programs and changes to existing programs that will not be implemented without its passage.
For example, the House version of the bill would revamp the Section 8 rent subsidy program in a way that is expected to give participating multi-family housing project owners a more reliable stream of payments and thus a better credit rating on their tax-exempt debt.
The House bill would also raise the size of multifamily mortgages that the Federal Housing Administration could insure in cities with high housing costs, enabling the cities to move forward with bond-financed projects that have been stalled by the limit.
Enactment of the appropriations bill does buy some time for housing lawmakers, said John T. McEvoy, the executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
"It will not be a severe disruption [in the housing industry] if a bill is passed reasonably soon next year," McEvoy said, "What we're losing is not a program, but increased flexibility within programs" that would result from changes such as the higher FHA mortgage limits, he said.
According to lobbyists, there has been some talk among House and Senate staffers of trying to quickly pass a stripped-down version of the bill, but chances for even that appear slim.
The appropriations bill enacted on Wednesday provides funding in fiscal 1995 for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and various independent agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the legislation, the HOME program would receive $1.4 billion in fiscal 1995, and Community Development Block Grants would receive $4.6 billion.
The EPA portion of the bill would provide $1.24 billion in fiscal 1995 for state revolving funds that help finance wastewater treatment plants and $700 million for a proposed revolving fund for drinking water facilities.