Senate rejects bill for housing fund

March 22, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- It's been a lousy month for the poor in Maryland.

Yesterday the Senate killed -- for the second time this week -- a bill that would have raised money for a low-income housing fund.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, would have required banks and thrifts to donate to the Maryland Housing Resources Corp. the interest that would have been earned on real estate agents' non-interest-bearing escrow accounts -- those accounts that hold clients' money.

Yesterday's 23-22 vote against the bill followed a 28-16 defeat Tuesday. After the first vote, Mr. Blount asked the Senate to reconsider the bill. "I felt just like a Scud missile had come through the door and exploded on the target: Senate Bill 355," he said of Tuesday's vote. "And sitting here, I felt the debris."

"This is really a shock," said Alice G. Pinderhughes, a Baltimore attorney who heads the housing corporation. She said a similar bill had passed the Senate last year only to die in the House.

Earlier in this legislative session, a bill to require title companies to donate some of their escrow account interest to the Maryland Legal Services Corp. was changed so that the money would go into Baltimore's treasury. And two other bills would divert other sources of funding from the legal services group to the state's Office of the Public Defender. Those bills are scheduled for a vote in the House and Senate today.

The housing fund defeat is even more galling, according to Ms. Pinderhughes, because the General Assembly in 1986 had passed the original law authorizing creation of the housing fund. But federal tax regulations have made it virtually impossible for the money to be donated to the corporation. The defeated bill would have resolved those problems, Ms. Pinderhughes said.

"We haven't been able to fund anything because we've been fighting these tax problems," she said.

The corporation's goal is to set up advisory boards throughout the state to decide which programs aimed at encouraging homeownership should be funded.

But the state's banking industry, which lobbied to kill the bill, saw it as taking money that rightfully belonged to its members.

"There is some perception that money sitting in a bank that is not earning interest is not doing anyone any good," said Wayne Kirwan, vice president of the Maryland Bankers Association. "That's not true -- it's helping the banks."

Mr. Kirwan estimates that should the bill become law it would take $7 million to $8 million from the banks.

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