Not long ago, a Salt Lake mother and her four kids spent the weekend emptying boxes and hanging pictures in the first real home they've ever been able to afford.

It was a day they thought would never come. The single mother had been living with her children, including her disabled son, in an apartment that had no water because the building owner hadn't paid the utility bill. She makes under $17,000 a year, and her dream was to have a decent, stable home for her family.This family lives a long way from Washington, D.C., and probably does not even know about the partnership of private enterprise and the government that's making a difference right here in Salt Lake City. This initiative has garnered attention frequently in the past 18 months, beginning in summer 1995 when a 100-part action plan was announced to help spark a rise in the rate of home ownership in the United States. The plan sets the bold target of helping 8 million more Americans achieve home ownership by the year 2000.

The National Homeownership Strategy is a small partnership involving many private organizations that see the benefit from a healthy home ownership trend. Here in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah, it is financial institutions in partnership with government and local housing developers that have shown the leadership with initiatives that enable more families to own their own homes.

"CROWN" is a lease-to-own program developed by the Utah Housing Finance Agency. Families pay rent on the homes (new or previously built) for a period of 15 years, with a portion of the monthly rent used to reduce the loan principal. At the end of the lease period, the families will have equity in the homes, which, coupled with down-payment assistance and below-market-rate financing, will enable them to buy the properties. The family you read about earlier is living in a CROWN home.

Numerous municipal governments are supporting CROWN, and Zions First National Bank and First Security Bank of Utah purchased low-income housing tax credits to fund the project. Washington Mutual Bank secured a $250,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle to help purchase properties in rural areas, where 70 CROWN homes will be built.

Here in Salt Lake City, First Security Bank has partnered with Neighborhood Housing Services to build 35 single-family homes for first-time homebuyers in an effort to revitalize the Fairpark and Guadalupe neighborhoods. These lower-income homebuyers would not qualify for financing under normal underwriting criteria, so First Security has committed $400,000 toward mortgage loans managed by the Salt Lake City Department of Housing and Economic Development. First Security has committed an additional $800,000 to the city to support home purchases in other Salt Lake neighborhoods. The city uses federal funding to "write down" the interest rate on the loans so that monthly payments are affordable to the home-buyers.

The National Homeownership Strategy also aims to bring home ownership to ethnic minorities who face several built-in barriers to achieving the home-ownership rates of the rest of the population. In Utah, the Navajo Nation has been the focus of intense efforts. Zions First National Bank will be the first lender in the state to make conventional mortgage loans for homes on reservation land, where legal complexities had virtually blocked private mortgage lending. As a participant in a precedent-setting pilot program, Zions plans to make $5 million in home-construction and home-purchase loans for the Navajo Nation.

Eight lenders - Bank of Utah, Barnes Banking Co., Far West Bank, First Security Bank of Utah, State Bank of Southern Utah, U.S. Bank of Utah, Sun Capital Bank and Zions First National Bank - are reaching out to low-income, first-time homebuyers throughout the state by offering special down-payment-assistance programs.

Using funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle, they are either providing direct grants for down payments or matching homebuyers' savings on a $1 to $1 ratio, up to $3,000 per family.

The financial institutions operating here understand the needs and circumstances of prospective homeowners in Utah. And it is efforts like theirs that, if successful, are sure to help many more worthy buyers realize the dream of home ownership.