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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Lawrence Grisanti made a bad decision in snubbing a hearing on Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority failures. But it may have had a good effect.

In symbolizing the lack of responsiveness authority tenants and local officials have long known about, it did help propel Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan into getting the federal government more involved.

Moynihan has now gotten the Senate to vote unanimously to require Housing Secretary Jack Kemp to report in six months on what progress the authority is making in desegregating its housing projects.

Kemp must also report on whether the authority's federal subsidies should be cut, or if the agency should be placed in receivership.

Kemp has already said he would resist placing the authority in receivership. But in forcing him to review the question formally, the Senate would be putting more pressure on HUD to justify its handling of the Buffalo agency.

As HUD feels the pressure, so should the Housing Authority.

Moynihan pushed his proposals in the form of an amendment to the $17.6 billion omnibus Housing Act. The furious senator had said Grisanti's refusal to show up and answer questions at the hearing bordered on "contempt of Congress." It also suggests contempt for authority tenants and for taxpayers who subsidize the operation.

The Moynihan amendment still must survive House-Senate conference committee action on the housing bill. But that is expected, given the amendment's unanimous approval in the Senate. Even Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, Republican co-manager of the bill and considered a friend of Mayor Griffin's -- who controls the authority -- did not try to block it.

Once the entire bill has been approved, it will give Kemp new powers to place troubled housing authorities under private management or in the hands of a court-appointed receiver.

Kemp, whose department previously has said the authority's housing is so segregated it violates the civil rights of tenants, will thus have even more clout to shape up an agency that repeatedly has seemed to resist reform.

Approval of the bill will give Kemp a significant new weapon. It also will provide another means of measuring his resolve in dealing with the Buffalo authority.

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