WASHINGTON — Greater availability of mortgage credit along with an improving picture in the general economy will make 2015 a year of "housing opportunity," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said Wednesday.

Castro, who spoke during a discussion hosted by Zillow at the Newseum, said getting a mortgage is a "little more in reach," thanks in part to new federal policies.

They include a reduction in mortgage insurance premiums by the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Housing Finance Agency's lower down payment requirements on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.

But he also cited encouraging trends in the job market as a factor.

"In terms of moving from renting to buying, wage stagnation has been a challenge. But now we see that moving in the right direction," said Castro, who participated in the webcast discussion with Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.

The HUD secretary also noted that gasoline prices are lower and that people can begin to save for a down payment. In addition, home price appreciation is leveling off.

"All of those things add up to greater opportunity to move from renting to buying in 2015," Castro said.

One of the reasons that the housing market has been lagging behind the overall economy is that members of the Millennial generation have been delaying homeownership.

Humphries said that delay is coming to an end. "We believe by early 2016 they will be the largest demographic of first-time homebuyers, finally replacing Generation Xers as the biggest source of demand. That will certainly be a big boom to the housing market if that comes to fruition," the chief economist said.

Their optimism is consistent with others' projections about the housing market. Economists at Wells Fargo Securities are expecting a pickup in household formations, especially for individuals aged 25 to 34. They estimate 300,000 net new households could be formed in each of the next three years.

"Given current trends, household formation should rise to 1.5 million in 2015, which is well above current forecasts for housing starts for 2015," the WFS Economics Group said in a Jan. 6 report.

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