ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- President Clinton has embraced a drive initiated by his top housing officials to push the country's homeownership rates to a record high within six years by bringing private sector forces to bear on the problem.

In a speech to the National Association of Realtors last weekend, Clinton directed Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros to develop a plan to "boost homeownership to an all-time high in the United States before the century is out."

Census Bureau figures show that 63.8 percent of American households own their own homes. The record high was 65.6 percent in 1980.

"I am committed to a new and unprecedented partnership between industry leaders and community leaders and government, to recommit our nation to the idea of homeownership and to create more homeowners than ever before," Clinton said.

Although Republicans took over control of both chambers of Congress in this week's elections, the outcome should not impede the president's homeownership drive, housing officials said.

For starters, the administration's strategy requires little, if any, congressional action or funding, HUD Housing Commissioner Nicolas Retsinas said. Instead, the administration will rely on executive orders, regulatory changes and its ability to unite private organizations and companies to achieve the changes, he said.

"This is not a government effort, not a federal effort but a national effort," Retsinas said.

Robert Bannister, chief lobbyist for the National Association of Home Builders, said: "Housing and homeownership have always been bipartisan issues."

Joseph Ventrone, the Republican deputy staff director of the House housing and community development subcommittee, said the plan echoes Republican themes.

"I feel like the {formulation of housing policy in the} dozen years of Reagan-Bush is being exonerated," he said.

In an August memorandum Cisneros said he expected the end-of-the-century campaign to result in 7 million more people owning homes, which would translate into a ownership level of 66 percent.

Cisneros now says, however, that the administration has not settled on a target but will announce a "reasonable" goal after the first of the year.

The matter of picking a homeownership goal has generated some controversy, with some factions calling for a safe and attainable goal. Others, like Stephen Driesler, chief lobbyist for the Realtors' group, are urging the administration to adopt a bolder target.

"We would rather set an ambitious goal, but not quite make it, than set too conservative a goal, only to exceed it but not gain as much as possible," Driesler said.

Clinton instructed Cisneros to report back with details by May. Instead, the eight task forces that were formed in August from among the 20 core public and private sector groups involved in the effort will make recommendations a month from now to give Clinton the option of making the homeownership drive part of his January State of the Union address.

In particular, Clinton called for cutting the costs of producing and financing housing, eradicating discriminatory barriers to homeownership and, through educational efforts, disabusing renters of the belief that homeownership is beyond their reach.

"Most people won't start saving for a home until they believe they can actually buy a home," Clinton said. "I want to say to the American people, and especially to young families, if that is what you think, you ought to start saving now because I am determined to see that you have the opportunity."

Although the details of the initiative remain to be worked out, several housing officials said that Clinton's involvement signals an important policy shift.

"Although HUD Secretary Cisneros wanted to elevate housing on the nation's agenda, it does take the commitment from the president himself to focus the nation's and his own administration's attention on this," Driesler said.

John A. Tuccillo, the Realtors' chief economist, called the Clinton strategy "probably the most significant commitment to housing by an administration since the Housing Act of 1949. It is a big deal... . The devil, though, is in the details and the details are about six months away."

Marc Weiss, a special assistant to Cisneros, predicted that the initiative will prove to be "one of the great legacies of the 1990s in terms of national policy. Even if the president is not reelected, it will outlast him."

Clinton called the homeownership rate a "measure of our national prosperity." But it only reached the high point of 65.6 percent after 46 years of steady improvement. It has fluctuated in recent years.

At the press conference, Cisneros also disavowed suggestions made by Office of Management and Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin that cuts in the mortgage interest deduction may be needed to pay for administration programs in the coming years.

"The president's position since the days he was governor of Arkansas has been that that is not an issue on the table," Cisneros said.