WASHINGTON - As many as 160,000 families would be unable to buy homes each year if Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance is targeted to low-income or first-time homebuyers.

That's the conclusion of a report released this week by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. The study was conducted by the Secura Group, a consulting firm headed by former FDIC chairman William Isaac.

For those still able to take advantage of the FHA, premiums would rise by 35% to 40%, the Secura report said. That's because an income-targeted FHA would be restricted to insuring smaller, riskier loans, and would be forced to raise premiums to cover higher losses.

The change would amount to a regressive $90 million tax on lower-income Americans, according to Joe Pickett, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

In addition, changing the FHA would end up costing taxpayers money, Mr. Pickett said.

The Secura Group also concluded that restricting the FHA would significantly limit the government's ability to support homeownership in distressed housing markets.

Mr. Pickett cited the mid-1980s recession in the oil-patch states of Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas when the share of private mortgage insurers dropped from 41% to 9%.

"The FHA was the only game in town for homebuyers in many communities," Mr. Pickett said.

Finally, Secura said that FHA borrowers and those who get private mortgage insurance are two different groups.

* The FHA serves those who make down payments of 5% of the home's value or less. Private mortgage insurers focus primarily on loans with down payments of 10% or more, the study said.

* The FHA insures a higher percentage of loans to African-Americans and lower-income borrowers than private mortgage insurers, the study said.

FHA premium policies also make it easier for higher-risk borrowers to afford a home.

That's because, unlike the private mortgage insurers, the FHA does not charge higher premiums for higher-risk borrowers. The study concluded that this cross-subsidy allows some high-risk borrowers who would otherwise have been priced out of the market to afford a home.

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LOS ANGELES - In another sign that California thrifts are broadening their product focus, California Federal Bank of Los Angeles has begun to offer government-insured loans.

Warren Raybould, executive vice president at Calfed, said the thrift had decided to offer these loans in order to retain customers in a shrinking market.

Calfed will offer loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration.

* * * PASADENA, Calif. - LandSafe Inc. has acquired Western Cities Title of El Monte, Calif. Western will now operate as LandSafe Title of California Inc.

Initially, the new unit will serve consumers in Los Angeles County. It will expand during the year into the rest of California.

LandSafe Inc. is a unit of Countrywide Credit Industries. The two work together to provide bundled mortgage services to their customers.

Mark Feld, a 16-year veteran of the title business, has been named executive vice president of the California unit. He was president of Western Cities.

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