SAVINGS AND LOAN institutions, which provide most of the country's mortgage money, have traditionally been less than eager to finance much of the housing in inner cities. They cite the "high risks" involved, and with some justification - as anyone who has attempted to keep renovation costs to a minimum well knows. But the result of such a cautious lending policy has been discrimination against those who wanted to move into - or stay in - older neighborhoods. This practice, called redlining, has been particularly difficult to eliminate because the savings and loan institutions that have the lending capital also make the decisions on just what type of house, neighborhood or person is "acceptable" for a loan. And those decisions, it is fair to say, are too often just plain arbitrary.

But now help may be on the way. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board - the independent federal agency that regulates most of the country's $444 billion savings and loan industry - has come up with some interesting proposals to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending. The proposed remedies are not drastic: Loans may not be denied because of the age of a house or a neighborhood; written standards must be used in order to ensure equal opportunity for home financing; and a person's education, lack of previous home ownership, job history or even arrest record can't have undue influence in determining a loan application.

What's important about all this is that the proposals, once they become formal practices, may offer a chance for people of all economic levels to purchase housing and live in central cities.While we realize that it will take more than dollars to bring the cities back to life, sound and unbiased lending patterns would provide a sorely needed stimulus.