issued an optimistic report card on President Clinton's program to boost homeownership. According to the agency, nearly a million households have have been added to the ranks of homeowners so far this year. That brought the homeownership rate to 65% in the third quarter, up from 64.2% in December 1994. "After years of decline and stagnation, homeownership is moving in the right direction," HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros said in a statement. The administration aims to add eight million families to the ranks of homeowners by the year 2000. If that goal is reached, the homeownership rate would climb to a record 67.5%. Mr. Cisneros attributed the recent increase in homeownership rates to low interest rates and the administration's partnerships with major housing and finance industry groups. Through the voluntary partnerships, HUD hopes to energize existing efforts to cut costs and simplify home building and mortgage lending, as well as encourage lending to immigrants and minorities. "I don't think you can discount the effect of the emphasis on low-income housing and originations," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Regional Financial Associates Inc. But low mortgage rates and falling home prices in California and parts of the Northeast are the primary factors behind increasing homeownership rates, Mr. Zandi said. In California, "for the most part, I think there's a realization that home prices are near bottom," Mr. Zandi said. That has "enticed a lot of renters into the market to buy homes." HUD also said that homeownership rates rose among two targeted groups. Homeownership in young households, that is, those headed by people under 35, rose a percentage point to 57.9%. Homeownership in minority households rose from 43.7% to 44%. The President's program is meant to recover a decade of lost ground in homeownership, pushing the rate past 1980's record level. Homeownership rose steadily from 1940 to 1980, and peaked in that year at 65.6%. But as the income of young families failed to keep pace with the cost of buying a home, homeownership rates fell. The rate has edged up in the 1990s as interest rates and home prices have fallen. In 1990, 63.9% of Americans owned homes.

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