BOSTON -- The Swaine Singers, a gospel-style singing group, kicked off the opening session of the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual convention with a high-energy performance of spiritual and patriotic songs. Their theme song, "Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong," could well have served as a theme for the convention.

Stephen B. Ashley, the outgoing president, followed with an impassioned defense of his tenure and especially the fair-lending agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban DevelOpment that he forged in his last weeks on the job.

"This extraordinary year has taught us how to live as an industry. We've learned the truth about what people think about us," he said. "We have the talent, the integrity, the business savvy, and the energy to respond, to do the right thing even if it is uncomfortable and bears a cost."

The usually mild-mannered Mr. Ashley thundered that there were three things that the HUD agreement definitely is not. He said it is not a new set of regulations, it is not an attempt by the MBA or HUD to prescribe individual comparties' contracts, and it is not a guarantee that "we will ward off future risk of regulatory action."

And closing the loop, he emphasized the three things the HUD agreement was: Voluntary, a menu of best practices from which lenders could choose some or all; and an affirmation that mortgage bankers can set their own standards for fair lending.

Mr. Ashley also praised the MBA's board of directors, saying it took "courage" to approve the fair-lending agreement with HUD. Other banking groups, and some MBA members, have opposed the pact as inviting an additional regulatory burden.

Henry Cisneros, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, also spoke at the MBA gathering, urging mortgage banks to develop their own agreements with HUD.

HUD officials were available throughout the conference to initiate contact with mortgage banks wanting to negotiate their own agreements.

Earlier, Warren Lasko, executive vice president, also offered some words of encouragement and uplift to the attendees. "Mortgage originations will be about $4 trillion for the rest of this century, and we will account for more than half of them," he said. "And at the same time, we will see mortgages climb to $6.5 billion outstanding and we will service half of them."

The new MBA president, Joe Pickett, said the group's research had found considerable misunderstanding of the mortgage process and that some of it resulted in attitudes that the process is biased. He announced that the MBA would be launching a major media campaign to "demystify the mortgage process."

Some of the principal myths, he said, were that large down payments were needed, that minor credit blemishes would result in rejection of applications, the perception that owning always costs more than renting, and the idea that people under 35 didn't stand a chance of getting a loan.

Mr. Pickett also said the campaign would increase public awareness of special low-cost programs for first-time homebuyers.

Lending for multifamily housing will also be on Mr. Pickett's program. "Despite years of effort, and a great deal of progress, the commercial and multifamily secondary mortgage market has yet to develop to the degree we would like to see," he said.

Educating investors such as pension funds about the role of mortgage bankers in originating and servicing such loans will be part of the effort, he added.

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