`A New Way Home'

A HOME of one's own remains a quintessential American dream. Yet for millions of families, this dream never becomes a reality. A lifetime of rent payments produces only a stack of canceled checks - never equity or the security of ownership.

Now the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Fannie Mae, plans to help groups traditionally locked out of home ownership. By increasing lending for minorities, immigrants, and renters by $1 trillion by the end of the decade, the nation's largest home mortgage investor expects to add as many as 10 million people to the ranks of homeowners.

Fannie Mae estimates that millions of Americans are economically qualified to own a home but lack the information and confidence to obtain a mortgage. Many potential buyers, it finds, are deterred by racial discrimination, real and perceived.

Since minorities are expected to account for 30 percent of American households by the end of the decade, this racial bias ranks as a problem of enormous magnitude. Redlining - the discriminatory practice of denying mortgage loans for property in certain low-income and minority neighborhoods - has too often acted as an invisible ``Keep Out'' sign.

The initiative, called ``Showing America a new way home,'' will aggressively invite renters to become homeowners. Through a multilingual advertising campaign, it will make information kits on home-buying available to all interested renters, helping to demystify a sometimes daunting process. It will also offer counseling to people who have previously been rejected for a mortgage and assist them in getting a loan approved.

By reducing paperwork and speeding up the origination process, Fannie Mae expects to cut the cost of starting a loan nearly in half.

``Affordable housing'' has long been a favorite campaign promise, delivered by politicians of all stripes. In fact, Fannie Mae's new effort comes as the Clinton administration is trying to curb discrimination in lending and to eliminate barriers that keep low- and middle-income people from qualifying for a mortgage.

As Edgar Guest, the Norman Rockwell of poetry, famously said, ``It takes a heap of living to make a house a home.'' But when headlines are full of dreary words like ``homeless'' and ``broken homes,'' this plan to make houses more available to more Americans is a move in the right direction.

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