New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn community with as many people as Austin, Tex., and a median household income of $21,000, is a challenge to champions of homeownership.

But a tour sponsored by Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City Inc. showed that once-rundown blocks in the troubled neighborhood are taking a turn for the better, thanks in part to help from local lenders.

"If it wasn't for Community Reinvestment Act requirements, all these buildings would have remained vacant," said Malika McMillan Graves, assistant to Brooklyn borough president Howard Golden. "Banks wouldn't be interested, and residents wouldn't have the money to buy these properties."

Neighborhood Housing raised $3 million in 1991 to open a Neighborhood Housing Services office in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Most came from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A total of $500,000 came as commitments from from banks, including Roosevelt Savings Bank of New York, Independence Savings Bank, Emigrant Savings Bank, Rhodebeck Charitable Trust, Dime Savings Bank of New York, and Carver Federal Savings Bank.

The Bed-Stuy office has bought 633 units, many of them in vacant city- owned buildings, renovated them, and sold them to local residents.

The partnership approach - collecting contributions local banks and combining them with public agency donations - has been key to the success of the program, says Francine Justa, executive director of Neighborhood Services.

Ten years ago the neighborhood was full of abandoned buildings, said former resident Thomas Basta, who is also president of Cross County Federal Savings Bank. But the partnership has revitalized the environs, he said, and today Bed-Stuy looks as good as it did when he lived there in 1960.

John Tsimbinos, chief executive of Roosevelt Savings and the initial contributor to the fund, said his interest in reversing the decay of Bed- Stuy was piqued five years ago after taking a bus through the Lower East Side of Manhattan. "I went past the tenement I grew up in," he told the group of bank chief executives and housing advocates at the start of last week's tour. "Back then it had a bathroom down the hall, and roaches. Twenty years later, it didn't look any different."

Some 159,000 people live in Bed-Stuy. So far, the coalition has rehabilitated 633 units, and 1,374 residents have attended seminars and workshops.

The agency relies on "full-cycle lending," Ms. Justa said, including prepurchase counseling and classes on home maintenance, to ensure that purchasers "get in and stay in."

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