The Bush administration yesterday gave details on how it will distribute $161.5 million, including $7.1 million in the Washington area, to state and local governments in a new federal program to help first-time low-income home buyers with down payments and closing costs.

The American Dream Downpayment Initiative, signed into law last December by President Bush, was again lauded by key Republican congressional backers and by the nation's top housing official, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. Critics also reacted, saying, as they have before, that the assistance was welcome but not a sufficient response to the nation's affordable housing crisis.

"This will help families overcome the single biggest obstacle to homeownership . . . coming up with the money for a down payment," Jackson said at a press conference at the Capitol. And, he said, it will help boost homeownership above its current historic high of 68.6 percent and help "close the homeownership gap" for minorities.

"We supported the American Dream homeownership program," said Judy Kennedy, head of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, "but do the math. If you have $161 million and divide by $10,000, you get about 16,100 families." The maximum available to a family under the program will be $10,000 or 6 percent of the home price, whichever is more.

Kennedy and other representatives of low-income housing groups said hundreds of thousands of families are being hurt by cuts elsewhere in the housing budget. The critics say they are concerned about the administration's zeroing out funds for the HOPE VI program, in which dilapidated and crime-ridden public housing projects are demolished and replaced, and about new limits in the Section 8 housing voucher program, which helps 2 million households afford rents in the private market.

Jackson defended Bush's programs. "Two-thirds of the HUD budget is for affordable and assisted housing," he said. "HUD is not getting out of the affordable housing business."

HUD said each state and local government will set up its own process for the down payment help. Some may use existing housing programs.

To be eligible, the gross income of a family of four must be less than 80 percent of their area's median income. For the metropolitan Washington area, that means family income less than $57,500. For more rural areas, such as Hagerstown and Cumberland, the income must be less than $43,900.

Maryland will receive $2.86 million, split among seven local governments and the state. Virginia will receive $3.6 million. The District will get $713,779. Interested applicants should contact their local housing agency.