Building the rate of homeownership in the United States - a goal of the Clinton administration - means converting many renters into homebuyers. But many renters aren't receptive to, or optimistic about, buying a home.

A recent study by two economists identified six clusters of renters:

* Families moving up the housing ladder, 17% of all renters.

* Black renters, 15%.

* Struggling blue-collar workers, 11%.

* Lifestyle renters, 21%.

* College graduates starting out, 26%.

* Elderly life-cycle renters, 10%.

The economists, David Varady at the University of Cincinnati and Barbara Lipman of the National Association of Realtors, said the first three groups may be suitable targets for targeted homeownership assistance programs.

They also found that about a third of all renters believe they will always rent. Almost half of this group says they don't expect to have the money to buy. About 49% say renting is a good deal, or less trouble, or that they would rather spend their money elsewhere.

The results of their study, which covered about 2,000 renters, appeared in Housing Policy Debate, published by the housing research department of Fannie Mae.

The authors said of those families moving up the ladder, 63% expect to buy a home when they next move, and that almost half are saving toward the purchase.

"At first glance, these results suggest that members of this cluster are making such meaningful progress toward owning that they need little if any assistance from either government or other sources," the article said. "This is not the case."

The authors note that almost half the members of the group considered purchases in the last three years but decided against doing so, most often because of the high down payment or high monthly payments.

"These results suggest that at least half of this cluster would progress even faster toward homeownership if they were helped with the down payment, the closing costs, or the mortgage payments."

The black renters cluster has special problems, according to the study. While they have incomes similar to those moving up the housing ladder, they also pay higher rents relative to income, rate their homes as poorer, and are less likely to buy a home the next time they move - 38% vs. 63% for those moving up the ladder.

"We suspect that the slow advancement of the cluster toward homeownership is due to the high proportion of single-parent households (34%) and the difficulty these households experience in saving for a down payment," the article said.

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