A combination of low interest rates, new government programs, and a steadfastly robust economy have pushed U.S. homeownership rates to an all- time high.

Just over two-thirds of Americans now own their homes, and the upward trend should continue, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies annual report, released today.

The rising tide, the study says, has "lifted many boats, with all ages, family types, and racial and ethnic groups posting solid homeownership gains."

The nation's cities are also benefiting as inner-city homebuyers revitalize downtowns.

Observers commend the Clinton administration and nonbank lenders for making loans more available. "The market would be strong regardless, but we're in the stratosphere because of the democratization of credit," said Mark Zandi, an economist with Regional Financial Associates.

"Housing has not only benefited from the strong economy, but has also contributed to its growth," the Harvard study said.

"Everyone is being touched," Mr. Zandi said, because the market is so good.

The boom will create positive long-term effects, he added, in part because homeownership promotes responsibility in one's community. "Everyone at some level realizes that," Mr. Zandi said.

The effect on neighborhoods, he said, is "hard to quantify,' but very real. "You just kind of feel it," he said.

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