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Mortgage program launched

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NEW YORK — Citigroup, the nation's largest financial institution, is launching a $200 billion program to help low- and moderate-income families buy homes.

The program, to be run by Citigroup's mortgage lending unit CitiMortgage, will include low down payment mortgages, reduced closing costs and help for people with bad credit histories, Citigroup said Monday.

Marge Magner, chairman and chief executive of Citigroup's global consumer group, said the program could help as many as 2 million families buy homes through the end of the decade.

"It's a continuation of our reaching into the community and providing access to credit and mortgages," Magner said.

The new $200 billion mortgage assistance program, to operate as part of Citigroup's Opportunities Within Neighborhoods program, greatly expands a $12 billion program that began in 2000.

"We've never made such a large commitment," Magner said.

Interested consumers can approach CitiMortgage or its partner groups, she said. They include the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, a nonprofit organization that helps families qualify for mortgages, as well as churches, community redevelopment groups and neighborhood associations.

To qualify, families must be minorities or earn less than the median income in their communities, CitiMortgage said. Families that purchase homes in census tracts designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as low income or mainly minority also will qualify, the company said.

The new program also will target others who sometimes have trouble qualifying for mortgages, including immigrants, Magner said.

"In all cases, the issue is reaching out to the community so they know the opportunity exists for a mortgage," she said.

Citigroup said that options available will include:

A credit of up to $3,000 to cover the closing costs on a home.

Low down payment requirements under Citi's affordable mortgage program and affordable purchase assistance program.

No down payment loans, offered in conjunction with Fannie Mae, the mortgage financing giant based in Washington, D.C.

Reduced rates for families with poor credit records, also with Fannie Mae.

Citigroup has taken a number of steps to assist low-income borrowers after running into heavy criticism from community groups for its 2000 purchase of Associates First Capital Corp., which specialized in loans to high-risk borrowers. Associates has since been merged into CitiFinancial.

In addition to settling federal and state charges of predatory lending against Associates, Citigroup has adopted a series of reforms to eliminate practices that took advantage of low-income or credit-impaired borrowers. And it has signed agreements with community groups to improve lending procedures in their neighborhoods.