'Save The Dream' Tour Helps Troubled Homeowners
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
President Obama's program to help people avoid mortgage foreclosure is off to a slow start. A new report shows that fewer than 10 percent of homeowners who qualify under this plan have gotten their loans modified. One group claims it has an answer. The Save the Dream tour is traveling the country promising same day solutions to many people who seek help.
Odette Yousef of member station WABE reports from Atlanta.
ODETTE YOUSEF: Two thousand people filed into Atlanta's downtown convention center on a recent morning. Some had waited overnight.
Unidentified Man #1: Good morning.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Unidentified Man #1: Slow it down everybody. Slow it down, please.
YOUSEF: The stories of how they got here were as varied as they were. For one couple, the trouble began when their adjustable interest rate rose to eight percent. Another family's income fell from $200,000 a year to $20,000 when the construction industry collapsed. In a few hours they all hoped they could walk out with a low interest, 30 year fixed rate mortgage.
Unidentified Man #2: How many people here think it sounds too good to be true?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man #2: You didn't raise your hand. Everybody should raise their hand.
YOUSEF: Bruce Marks is the CEO of NACA - the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. He says 80 percent of the people who show up get their loans modified for free. The group restructures the existing loan by determining an affordable payment. They then get the interest rate and/or principle permanently reduced. Marks launched the 10-city Save the Dream tour because he thinks the federal program isn't working. He says President Obama's financial incentives haven't compelled lenders or servicers to help homeowners.
Mr. BRUCE MARKS (CEO, Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America): We want him to adapt the NACA standard that says stop pleading, begging, and bribing these lenders and servicers. Require them to do it, because if you don't, the job won't get done.
YOUSEF: NACA has legally binding agreements with all the major private U.S. lenders. It got those through what Marks calls nonviolent bank terrorism, showing up at the homes of CEOs of major lenders with hordes of protesters, and it's worked. One hundred representatives of these institutions traveled with the tour working out agreements on the spot.
(Soundbite of crowd)
YOUSEF: That's why Mike and Nancy Rockenstire(ph) came. Mike tells a credit counselor the details of their budget.
Mr. MIKE ROCKENSTIRE: I'm hoping for a reduction in payment of four to five hundred dollars where it can be reasonable. I'm hoping to keep my home.
YOUSEF: Mike sells TVs on commission at an electronics store. But sales have dropped and his income has been cut in half. He says he tried working it out with their lender, Bank of America, but got the runaround. As it turned out, a B of A representative here wasn't able to help him much either. Mike's loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which doesn't work with NACA. About a third of homeowners who come to this Save the Dream tour are in the same situation. Government lenders like the FHA, Freddie Mac, and the VA aren't allowed to lower their interest rates to what NACA wants. But recently the FHA has started paying attention.
Commissioner David Stevens came to the Atlanta event and says the operation is a success, but it would be hard to copy on the national level.
Mr. DAVID STEVENS (Federal Housing Administration): I think it's an outstanding model. But in the broader term, based on the three million or so people that are facing foreclosure, those people, you know, can't be handled in an event that handles, you know, thousands. There have to be much broader solutions.
YOUSEF: Stevens says the Obama administration believes in working more closely with the lending institutions to solve the problem. The tour resumes next month with stops in Phoenix, California and New York.
For NPR News, I'm Odette Yousef in Atlanta.