Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both creatures of Congress, are always eager to build their political capital by publicizing their efforts to facilitate lending for affordable housing.

In the last week or so, both agencies made special efforts to get press coverage of announcements on the topic.

* Fannie Mae said it was taking the "no" out of lending decisions by identifying a national network of counseling services for people whose mortgage applications were initially rejected, and by providing telephone and mail counseling itself for those who are out of reach of counselors.

* Freddie Mac said it had committed $100 million to a program in Los Angeles that would help people buy and rehabilitate inner city homes. It also said it planned to expand the program to other cities.

Fannie Mae said last week it was making available to lenders and real estate offices a national directory of more than 300 counseling services. People who have been initially rejected for a loan can qualify under Fannie's community homebuyers program once they have completed a counseling course.

The program offers flexible underwriting standards and down payments as low as 5%, with as little as 3% coming from the borrower's funds.

Fannie will also provide an 800 number that loan seekers can call to get counseling from trained advisers if they cannot get to a community counseling service. These callers will be able to take home study courses.

"Instead of saying no to someone who isn't quite ready to buy a home, lenders and real estate professionals can say, not yet," said Larry Small, president.

A Fannie spokesman said lenders have complained that they did not know where to send applicants for counseling. He said Fannie had developed its director and phone services to remove this obstacle to expansion of its community homebuying program.

A Joining of Forces

The Freddie Mac announcement said it would join forces with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Los Angeles Housing Department, and three lenders to finance purchases by low- and moderate-income families and first-time homebuyers in inner-city areas of Los Angeles.

The lenders are Countrywide Funding Corp., First Interstate Bank, and Family Savings Bank, all in the Los Angeles area. The program, like Fannie's permits lenders to make down payments as little as 5%, with 3% of their own funds.

Los Angeles will provide interest-free second mortgages to cover the cost of rehabilitation. Principal payment and equity sharing will be deferred until the property is sold.

For Freddie, the program appears to fit well with its insistence on developing programs that can be replicated easily and without intensive hands-on efforts by Freddie for each extension.

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