ACROSS the country, families who never thought they would be homeowners are qualifying for mortgages and moving into their own homes. In Waterbury, Conn., for example, Dan and Roseanne Osborne overcame credit problems to qualify for a mortgage after a nonprofit housing group loaned them $10,000 for a down payment.
''Without the down payment assistance, we definitely couldn't have bought our own home,'' Dan Osborne said. The couple moved with their three children into their first home, a new four-bedroom colonial, in September.
In Visalia, Calif., Patricia Acosta, a full-time supermarket cashier, will move into her own home in February after spending months putting in 30 hours a week building homes as part of a self-help building group. Members of the group contribute their ''sweat equity'' to cut down-payment and mortgage costs while building 10 homes - one for each family.
''I'd be looking at a lifetime of renting without this program,'' Acosta, a single mother of two, said.
In Hamilton, Ohio, Maria Givens and her two children moved out of public housing and into their own home in October after a local lender, using flexible guidelines, decided she was a good mortgage risk. Givens pooled income from a part-time job, child support, and public assistance to qualify for the home loan.
The aid given to the Osborne, Givens, and Acosta families covers just a few of the methods used to boost home ownership contained in the Clinton administration's National Homeownership Strategy, a partnership among government, leaders in the housing industry, real estate agents, lenders, and representatives of nonprofit organizations.
A year ago Nov. 5, President Clinton challenged my department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to see whether we could reverse a disturbing trend. The American dream had sprung a leak: Rates of home ownership among American families had been declining since 1981.
By 1992, the national home-ownership rate had slipped to 64 percent, down from a historic peak of 65.6 percent in the 1980s. The homeownership rate for families headed by people under 35 fell even more sharply, from 44.5 percent in 1980 to 37.6 percent in 1992. These lower percentages represent millions of creditworthy families locked out of homeownership.
On June 5, Mr. Clinton unveiled the National Homeownership Strategy and announced a goal: to add 8 million new families to America's homeownership rolls, raising the national home ownership rate from 64.7 percent to an all-time high of 67.5 percent by the end of the century.
The strategy requires no new government funds; instead, it helps the private mortgage market work more effectively in getting the money to buy homes to the people who need it. It's a unique union of private- and public-sector efforts and commitments that are expanding opportunities for people and communities.
Strategy partners - more than 50 national housing organizations - have agreed to take 100 specific actions to make buying a home easier for first-time buyers and working families. These actions will reduce down-payment and closing costs; promote wider use of flexible guidelines to allow more buyers to qualify for mortgages; simplify the lending process; make saving for a down payment easier; reduce the cost of building new homes; and expand counseling programs that help first-time buyers find homes, qualify for mortgages, and budget their income to meet monthly payments.
The success the Osborne, Acosta, and Givens families have had in buying their first homes proves the National Homeownership Strategy is sound and the president's goal of 8 million new homeowners by the year 2000 is achievable.
It's achievable because the Clinton administration is already doing the right things to boost home-ownership rates, which have picked up slightly in the last two years.
Interest rates are low and are expected to stay that way through the end of the decade.
It's achievable, too, because of changing demographic patterns. Many immigrants who came here over the past decade have worked hard, saved money, and are ready to buy in record numbers.
But more needs to be done. The cooperation the strategy is building between the public and private sectors brings the goal closer by making buying a home easier than before.
AND how do the new and soon-to-be homeowners feel about the creative new efforts that helped them buy into the American dream?
''It's really good to see my house taking shape. I'm ready to be in my own place,'' Acosta said.
''I love my house. It's something I always wanted. It's mine,'' Givens said.
I can't imagine a better celebration for this country than to set a record for home ownership by 2000. It would be a fitting testament to President Clinton's commitment to make sure that every citizen has the opportunity to share in America's prosperity.