The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is starting a program to bring more minorities into the area's real estate industry and to increase equal housing opportunities for minority groups.

The program, funded by a $35,000 Ford Foundation grant, will recruit, counsel and place minorities in real estate firms throughout the metropolitan area.

Loretta Avent, director of the COG experimental project which will last one year, calls the minorities who will participate in the program "change agents."

"Where you live is one of the most basic things in life," said Avent, who came to COG in January to manage the project. "The program in terms of the number of people we place in jobs is only going to make a little dent. But the long range effects of this porgram are going to be deeply felt.

"We want to get minorities into those real estate firms that cover places like Potomac, or Georgetown, or southern Fairfax County," Avent said. "And we want to turn out people in this program who are quality real estate professionals and will impress their employers with their competence and salesmanship."

The program will recruit from among black, Spanish, Asian and Indian minorities beginning in late July. Advertisements will be placed in local newspapers, particularly minority publications, and notices will be distributed through churches, community colleges and youth groups to reach potential participants.

Between 40 and 50 participants will be recruited. Limited financial assistance will be available for most of them through small loans, Avent said. The loans would help pay for a basic study course in real estate, books, the fees for the exam to certify as a real estate agent, and the fees for the multiple listing, a revolving directory of homes for sale in the area.

Avent expects the program to assist more than 100 other applicants through job referrals and recommendations, although no funds will be availabel to other than the 40 or 50 recruits. By September all recruits would be selected and all participating real estate firms in Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia that will give jobs to recruits would be identified, she said.

Follow-up checks will be set up after the recruits are employed to measure their success six months after they are hired, Avent said.

"A real estate agent gets his clients from his church, from his family friends, from his social life," Avent explained. "And these are the people he would attract to the firm he works for.

The program has formed an advisory committee made up of leading realtors, members of human rights commissions and housing officials from metropolitan Washington. The Minorities in Real Estate advisory committee is in the process of establishing criteria to select program participants and contacting real estate firms where participants can be placed after training. The committee also is exploring ways to raise $10,000 for the program as required by the Ford grant.

"We haven't determined how we will raise the money, but we expect to have it by September. We know this program is going to be successful," Avent said. "The support that has been shown for it means success. Already we have had 65 people ask to participate. All of those people must have heard about it by word of mouth, because a couple of those requests came from Texas and Atlanta, Ga."

"This isn't a program to bring minorities from the inner city and plop them in the suburbs," she said. "It's one that opens up a freedom of choice in housing people who have had that choice limited in the past."