Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis should be commended for calling town meetings and a Jan. 25 conference to identify local housing problems and discuss solutions.

Salt Lake residents ought to respond by participating. Decisions on a housing policy will affect every person in the city.But those who get involved should also recognize, as Mayor DePaulis no doubt already does, that the problems have no painless solutions.

For example, the problem of disappearing federal funding for subsidized housing programs is not going to, itself, disappear.

Some people hope that with politically powerful Jack Kemp, who cares about inner-city problems, serving as George Bush's secretary of housing and urban development, housing programs will at least be able to maintain the funding levels to which they've sunk during the Reagan years.

But it must be remembered that assisted-housing programs cover no more than 10 to 15 percent of the need nationwide. With budget deficit reduction a top priority of Republicans and Democrats, Congress is not likely to increase that level much.

And locally, addressing the simultaneous problems of landlords with empty apartments and low-income people unable to afford housing will be much harder than putting two and two together.

Because many landlords who can't rent their older apartments in today's glutted market have high-interest loans on their vacant properties, they are turning them back to the bank rather than dropping the rent enough to put it within reach of the "transitional" renters the city wants to help. These are the people who have jobs and want to move out of shelters or off the streets but cannot afford apartments.

Any solution to the city's housing problems will probably include zoning changes and more extensive land use control, both certain to be political wasp nests. Property owners and developers who bought under certain assumptions won't want the rules made tougher - especially if they are losing money already.

Mayor DePaulis should be praised for involving the public in this development of a city policy. Such basic political questions as how and where people will live should not be left to the bureaucrats and special-interest groups. The more people involved, the fairer the result can be.