Mortgage lenders are banding together to increase homeownership in New York's South Bronx.

Fleet Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Nippon Credit Trust, and other institutions contributed more than $85,000 toward the operation of a Neighborhood Housing Services office, which opened last week in a Fleet branch near Yankee Stadium.

Neighborhood Housing serves as a liaison between lenders and potential homeowners.

Harvard Center for Housing Studies says the shortage of affordable urban housing is dangerous. A recent Harvard study said cities without affordable homes will create a divided America, with low-income renters clustered in inner cities and higher-income homeowners in the suburbs.

Committing resources and opening branches in the South Bronx does more than satisfy Community Reinvestment Act requirements, said John Tugwell, Fleet president and chief executive. The move makes good business sense, because the area has gone through a renaissance in the past 10 years, he said.

"The Bronx is one of the most closely kept business secrets in the country," Mr. Tugwell said.

Other banks, including Dime Savings and European American Bank, have opened branches in the Bronx in recent months.

Representatives from Neighborhood Housing expressed relief at Fleet's commitment to the project, which Neighborhood Housing originally planned with National Westminster Bank. Fleet acquired Natwest earlier this year.

Fleet will deliver on all of Natwest's promised contributions to the organization, Mr. Tugwell said. "It's very worthwhile in a community business sense. It helps to get us sensibly involved."

Mr. Tugwell formerly served as chief executive of Natwest, which had a long history of working with Neighborhood Housing in urban areas.

Neighborhood Housing will use the new office to assist five community development corporations in creating and implementing revitalization strategies in the area. The organization is responsible for 750 occupied one- to four-family buildings in the South Bronx.

Neighborhood Housing recently opened a home maintenance training center in Astoria, Queens, financed predominantly by Astoria Federal Bank. Home maintenance training provides free instruction to homeowners looking to repair their property.

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