Ken Kurtz, who builds two to five houses a year in Lackawanna County, began the summer with five contracts for delivery this fall or in the spring.

Now he's down to one, as stock market losses or fears of falling home values persuaded the other buyers to put their projects on hold.

His solution: a federal stimulus package to rescue the new-home market from the worst collapse in three decades.

The downturn has been tough on builders and their suppliers. Pittsburgh home builder Frank Thompson said yesterday that some of his colleagues had turned to remodeling to get them through.

Mike Kurpiel, market-development manager at ProBuild in Cherry Hill, which supplies materials to builders and remodelers, has been forced to lay off workers this year, and other employees have taken salary cuts to stay employed.

"We've had to cut to the bone," he said. "Some of those people had worked for us for 20 years."

The three joined National Association of Home Builders consultant David W. Seiders in a conference call yesterday sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Builders to push for federal help.

Though Seiders emphasized that Pennsylvania was not in as bad shape as other regions, building permits - a sign of future building - are down 31 percent from 2007 across Pennsylvania, according to the latest data from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.

Seiders said a national coalition of housing-industry members was pushing Congress to enact a stimulus package to include a tax credit for all buyers that, unlike the $7,500 in July's Housing Recovery Act, would not have to be repaid.

Instead, the group wants a 10 percent tax credit for all qualified home buyers, equaling $10,000 to $22,000, depending on market location.

"We want an aggressive mortgage-interest buy-down that will cut fixed rates to 2.99 percent for all 2009 home buyers, as well as a bold plan to deal with foreclosures," which are forcing builders to compete with "fire-sale prices," Seiders said. Fixed rates now are at 5 percent.

The coalition also wants the new, higher mortgage limits - $417,000 for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and $420,000 for FHA loans in the Philadelphia area - to be extended into 2009.