The organization that stands behind many of the nation's mortgages is taking broad steps to make homeownership easier for lower-income Americans, particularly recent immigrants and members of minority groups, people involved in the effort said last week.
Under the new rules, banks would have more flexibility in lending to people who already owe a considerable amount of money or who cannot afford a down payment equal to 20 percent of the price of a home, the people said.
The change is to be announced Tuesday by the Federal National Mortgage Association, popularly known as Fannie Mae. Officials at Fannie Mae would not comment.
President Clinton is tentatively scheduled to attend the announcement. The administration is urging that loans be more broadly available to poor and lower-middle-income Americans.
In addition to changing its guidelines, Fannie Mae plans a national educational campaign that will seek to teach recent immigrants and members of minority groups how to obtain mortgages.
The campaign will be aimed particularly at immigrants in a dozen "gateway" cities where the percentage of homeownership has been declining.
The long-term goal is to broaden the economic and ethnic diversity of homeowners. About 70 percent of white households now own their homes, compared with 40 percent of black and Hispanic households.
Mortgage experts have estimated that up to 2 million American households are excluded from buying homes now because of conservative mortgage lending standards.
These include Americans with minor blemishes on their credit records, for such things as changing jobs repeatedly or failing to pay utility bills on time. Most mortgage experts assume that even people who fall behind on other bills will struggle to make mortgage payments lest they lose their homes.
"Mortgage-lending criteria have been very conservative, and we have a lot of people who should be creditworthy and have been cut out," said Thomas H. Stanton, a former Fannie Mae lawyer.
Fannie Mae and the much smaller Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., better known as Freddie Mac, are publicly traded enterprises that were created by the federal government to help provide more money for mortgages.