RITA Chio's question to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger went straight to the heart of the sluggish housing market:

"Governor, we have plenty of buyers - that's not the problem. It is when we try to close these deals, escrows are taking six to nine months to close. What can be done about that?" she asked.

So far, no matter how hard they puff, all the government rhetoric the politicians can muster has not been enough to blow away this housing slump.

The federal government has been throwing money at banks and financial institutions since last fall, so much that the totals have reached beyond a trillion dollars. President Obama has announced not one, but two separate housing stimulus packages. And the governor, in answering the Realtor's question that day in the City of Industry Expo Center, spoke of his own initiative to help out foreclosed homeowners in the Golden State.

But as Chio, president of the West San Gabriel Valley Association of Realtors, so aptly pointed out, these measures don't seem to be hitting the nail on the head. The problems of the California housing market are many, but one of the biggest ways to drive the housing market out of its slump is to free up credit.

Even after banks received federal dollars, the banks are not lending money. Some are hoarding the cash in order to bring up balance sheets or are using it to pay for toxic assets.

Credit for worthy homebuyers must flow and it must flow more freely in order for the housing market to rebound. And we believe a housing rebound is key to the greater economy turning around, at least here in California. Sometimes, housing is the economy.

Second, some real estate agencies are reporting a lack of expertise from banks and other lenders when it comes to closing out the majority of home sales, such as short sales (when the seller sells the house for less than is owed) or foreclosure sales (when the bank sells the house). Banks must re-train personnel in the intricacies of these sales. They must clear their desks of loans and redouble their efforts, even if it takes more loan officers to do the job.

We're not advocating a return to barely even giving a glance at loan documents and the rubber-stamping practices of recent years. That's, at least in part, what got us into this mess. But for those borrowers with 20 percent down and a solid income, escrows should be approved and approved quickly.

Because even with the recent positive signs of an economy on the upswing - the mini boom on Wall Street and the May report showing consumer confidence up more than 14 points - these are not enough to drive an economy from recession. Any real recovery will also require a healthy housing market.