Following Up On Foreclosures

Guests:

Mike Thompson, news director at NPR member station WOSU, Columbus, Ohio
Mashelle Gladney, Home Fit Program Coordinator, Greater Linden organization, Columbus, Ohio

When it comes to the issue of foreclosures, the government says loan modifications are on track. But many people who qualify for help are still losing their homes. Guests talk about how the wave of foreclosures has affected neighborhoods in the state of Ohio and across the nation.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Columbus, Ohio, today, broadcasting from the studios of member station WOSU.

When the mortgage bubble burst, home prices spiraled down, adjustable loan rates spiraled up, the recession took away millions of jobs, and foreclosure forced families out of their homes. The Obama administration tried to mitigate the disaster with the Making Homes Affordable plan, which presented some new options to people on the brink, ways to modify loans so they can make lower payments. This hour, we'll look at how that's working here in Ohio and across the country. And, of course, we want to hear from you. Has foreclosure changed your neighborhood? How? And is it continuing to do so? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, we're here in Columbus, Ohio: Test City, USA. We want to know what products have been tested where you live. Remember Cube TV? Well, we didn't think so. Anyway, give us a - send us an email: talk@npr.org. But first, a foreclosure follow-up: Mike Thompson is news director here at WOSU where they've been working on a series on this crisis and he joins us here in the studio in Columbus. Thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. MARK THOMPSON (News Director, WOSU Radio): Good afternoon.

CONAN: I'm in your studio, actually.

Mr. THOMPSON: Nice of you being here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Along with states like California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, Ohio has been hit hard by foreclosure. Is it getting any better?

Mr. THOMPSON: No - in a word, no. It's - it doesn't seem to be getting terribly worse, but it's about the same as it was last year. So, this - sort of -they're hoping that it's at the bottom or near the bottom, but we haven't started the upward climb - or downward climb, as far as the number of foreclosures is concerned. We haven't seen the improvement start yet.

CONAN: What is normal for Ohio? How bad did it get? Where is it now?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, back in like 2000 - in 2000 and 2001 is when it really started to kick in according to the service providers we've talked to. And that was mainly the subprime mortgage problems, the subprime loans coming due and people being foreclosed upon because of that. Then in 2004, 2005, 2006, the second mortgage, the home equity loans and falling home values triggered a lot of foreclosures there. And then recently it's been the economy. And the number of foreclosures has doubled in the past, you know, five or six years across the state. Now it's mainly job loss and that's, you know, forcing people from their homes.

CONAN: Well, how has the Making Home Affordable plan affected - is it working?

Mr. THOMPSON: It's hard to tell because you talk to counselors, the Housing and Urban Development certified counselors, who we've been working with in our series. And they say, it's helping a little, but they're still frustrated by the pace. They're saying there's some loan modifications, but they're not seeing enough in their estimation. They're saying that some of the modifications are coming back where they'll cut the payment by only $50 a month, which isn't really going to help someone who's hurting and in danger of losing their home - $50 a month really isn't going to help a whole lot. They want to see more assistance, but they are frustrated by - and they will tell you that the bottom line is for all these - this assistance is if the homeowner does not have the income coming in, there's not a whole lot they can do.

CONAN: And we want to talk about this, of course, from the homeowner's point of view and as you say, if they lose their jobs, they don't have income, they're not going to be able to pay a loan no matter what it is. But nevertheless, there is another side to this equation. Chris Arnold joins us now, an NPR correspondent who's been covering the housing and mortgage crisis for us. He's with us from his office in Boston. Chris, good of you to be with us today.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Thanks Neal. And hi, Mike.

Mr. THOMPSON: Hi.

CONAN: And what's this doing for the banks? Are they willing to make these loans? Are they willing to modify the loans to avoid foreclosure?

ARNOLD: They are willing. You know, it's a question of pace, like Mike was talking about. And, you know, how many of these loan modifications are happening, and are they good loan modifications? I mean, that's another thing. I think we're talking about the Making Home Affordable plan from the Obama administration. I think everyone agrees this is the best effort so far that the government's come up with to try to put a dent in this problem that. You know, before it was like each bank had its own, you know, approach, and it was very hard to tell, okay, well, what was this bank doing versus what's this bank doing. And, you know, as a reporter, you just, kind of, scratch your head. And they all said, they were doing everything that they could.

I mean, now we've got a measuring stick that they can all be kind of graded against and the Treasury Department is coming up with report cards every month to say, you know, here's how Bank of America's doing, here's how Chase is doing. And so, in that regard, you know, we're able to see what's happening a lot better. And the quality of the loan modifications themselves are getting better because of this program, that, before - like Mike was just saying, okay, you lower somebody's payment by 50 bucks but they really need it lowered by 500 to be able to keep their house. You know, what does that do? And the Making Home Affordable plan, the goal of it, was to make - you know, if we're going to bother to go through the trouble, you know, to try to do this for somebody, let's make sure it's actually affordable. That's the goal of this plan and I think it's doing that better than others have.

CONAN: And that transparency, are you seeing them here in Ohio, Mike?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, yeah. We see the same statistics in, I think, National City, which is owned by PNC now, which has a large presence here in Ohio. The first report card that came out, they hadn't made one modification. I haven't seen the stats since then, but we're looking at those things here and looking at local banks and see how the - how they're doing, stacked up against other banks as well, other lenders.

CONAN: Now, let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. How has foreclosure changed you neighborhood and is that changing? And we'll start with Bo(ph). Bo with us from Naples, Florida.

BO (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

BO: You know, I'm in the real estate business down here. I've got to tell you I've reinvented myself for about the fourth time and I'm doing a lot of short sales. We're doing a lot of foreclosures. And in terms of the loan modifications, I was telling to your screener, we feel that the loan modifications have been just lip service by the banks to the Obama administration in order to get the bailout money. I mean, I've talked to literally hundreds of people. It's pretty much the same thing, kind of what your other guy was saying. They were doing loan modifications.

They were giving them $50 or $100 or $200 - the guy needed $1,000. Then the next month, they'd get a statement and the money that were in arrears got added back on and oftentimes, I'd hear people say, my loan modification was now more than it was before.

CONAN: Hmm.

BO: And what's so frustrating is that these homeowners are so frustrated. They are so stressed out. A lot of them are throwing their hands up in the air. So, when we're trying to talk to them to possibly sell a property short, at that point, they are saying, you know, tell the bank to blankety-blank. We just - all we - you know, they throw their hands up in the air, Neal. And it's so sad. We're talking to people - and this is not aberration. We're talking to people - one of my clients had a million dollar house that - he lost a lot of his income when the DHL Company pulled out of North America. And all of the sudden, he's got a $950,000 mortgage with a house that's maybe worth 450.

CONAN: And that's the classic short position. I mean, that's an extraordinarily short position and he's really upside down, and there's nothing for him to do.

BO: There's nothing for him to do and the bank is giving him lip service. Now, we know as professionals that the chance of him getting a Bank of America modification that he can afford won't work. But the irony of it is, is the bank would rather write-off $5-, $600,000 than keep the homeowner in there and lose two.

CONAN: Chris Arnold, does that make any sense, and is Beau right? Is this just lip service on the part of the banks?

ARNOLD: Well, I think the lip-service question is a big one, and it's hard to know. You know, there are a lot of challenges as far as just the logistics of gearing up and handling two million people that are facing foreclosure. I mean, the banks haven't had to deal with this before. So is incompetence, you know, or is just the daunting scale of the problem, or is it sort of benign neglect, like, you know, they just are not buying in and aren't doing as much as they could be?

And the answer to that is difficult to assess, but you know, there were a couple things there in what Joe was talking about, that, you know, one is this idea that the bank saves money if it does this loan work, and this is sort of the paradox in all of this.

I mean, you know, people say, well, why should we bail out these homeowners who made mistakes or whatever? But in a lot of cases, everybody's really better off. I mean, if you cut them a deal to keep them in the home, the homeowner gets to stay there. They're happy, their kids stay in school or whatever. The bank or the investors who own the loan lose less money, you know, and the neighborhood doesn't deteriorate as much. I mean, it's really an absolute win, win, win, but often it's not happening.

And so then the question is why, and it's a very complicated answer. One piece of it is that often the bank that's making the decision about the loan modification does not own that loan. So Bank of America or Chase or some other bank, they're what's called a mortgage servicer, and don't worry too much about that term, but that basically means you send them your check and then they send it off to the 100 different investors who bought into this pool of 1,000 mortgages that, you know, your loan is a part of now.

But so the bank doesn't actually lose the money if the loan goes bad, but to do the loan modification, they have to spend some money to hire people who can actually do this, who aren't just debt collectors, who can, you know, do underwriting, assess how much the property's actually worth, and so there's all these disconnects in the system.

So like, you know, the people who do the loan mod, you know, they're not really on the hook if the loan goes bad, so you know, there's - and it's - that's oversimplifying it even a little bit, but you get the sense that there's just a lot of moving parts here.

CONAN: And Mike?

Mr. THOMPSON: That's one of the frustrations that the councils tell us about, is that some of these cases take a long time just for that reason, because these, you know, these elaborate securities, mortgage-backed securities, they have to get the investors to sign off on the re-work of the mortgage, and sometimes that happens very quickly if it's a fairly simple mortgage. Other times it can take months, and that's frustrating, of course, for the homeowner who's trying to re-work the mortgage and waiting all this time.

CONAN: And falling further and further behind in the meantime.

Mr. THOMPSON: Exactly. And that's - what's sort of this problem is such a macro problem, but it's fought on an individual basis, home by home by home. Two homes on the same street with similar mortgages can have very different outcomes because of a lot of different circumstances.

CONAN: Including which company you go, which bank.

Mr. THOMPSON: Exactly.

CONAN: And this can - this can - the other problem is once houses start going - being foreclosed in the neighborhood, does that have an accelerating effect? All of a sudden, well, your house is worth even less than before the neighborhood's not so good.

Mr. THOMPSON: The home values drop, and - yup.

CONAN: All right, Mike, stay with us. So Mike Thompson, who's the news director here at WOSU, where they've been doing a special series on foreclosure in the state of Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by foreclosure. He was reading these statistics from counties around the state. Fifteen percent, 16 percent of the mortgages are being foreclosed. It's astonishing.

Also with us, Chris Arnold, NPR's correspondent who's been covering these issues. He joins us from Boston. You stay with us too, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Columbus, Ohio, today, broadcasting from the studios of member station WOSU.

Mortgage rates continue to be low. We hear reports that home prices in many areas hit bottom. Still, many economists expect foreclosures to grow, at least through late next year. Job losses drive many of the defaults. The White House says its program to help homeowners in trouble is on track. Still, families continue to lose their homes, and banks continue to foreclose.

Today, a follow up on foreclosures. How has foreclosure changed your neighborhood? Is that continuing? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Mike Thompson, news director here at WOSU. NPR's Chris Arnold is our correspondent, who covers housing and the mortgage crisis. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Susan, Susan with us from Clinton Township in Michigan.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi there, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

SUSAN: Good. Well, I wanted to point out a couple things. My husband has had a 40 percent pay cut, and I have had to close my small business because I had had cancer, and when we went to our bank to modify our mortgage, it - they had sold the note off, and it went on and on. We would just get somewhere within the modification, and the mortgage would get sold off.

Ended up, we went into foreclosure. We were at the 11th hour and found a wonderful attorney through Moratorium Now in - here in Michigan, and who's a consumer rights attorney. We fought it, lost in district court, but just last week the circuit court judge overturned the district court judge. We're keeping our home.

They said that Wells Fargo is hiding behind the front of Deutsche Bank, acting as the trustee, to avoid participating and living up to their contract with the United States on the Making Home Affordable Act, and this wonderful judge, who happens to be married to a Republican congresswoman, took the bank to task.

And you know, first of all, we get to keep our home, which is wonderful. But honestly, this is the first person that I know of in very conservative Macomb County, Michigan, this judge actually said you're lying, you're hiding behind this, this is a global problem, these people did not get pay cuts and lose their jobs or their businesses other than for the fact of the fraud that was perpetrated in the banking system.

And I know that Deutsche is actually the trustee on a lot - on thousands of mortgages across the country so that the mortgage holders don't have to participate.

CONAN: Well, first of all, Susan, congratulations. You get to keep your home. That's the upshot here.

SUSAN: Yeah, and my husband's, you know, got a better job and is well employed, and I'm employed now and doing well, but it was a, it was a - it's been a two-and-a-year fight for our lives, and…

CONAN: And that - and a lot of people are in that situation too, and sadly the outcome is not always a triumph.

SUSAN: But I'd like to know from your guest, do they know - have they looked into the fact that Deutsche does act as a trustee for Citi, for JP Morgan Chase, for a lot of mortgage companies, and…

CONAN: Chris Arnold, can you help us out on this?

ARNOLD: And I haven't looked into Deutsche Bank in particular too much, but you know, there's this - there's almost a sort of like a bogeyman that's raised out there, like oh, well, the investors, whether it's Deutsche Bank as the trustee or some other trustee that, you know, basically, okay, these loans get kind of wrapped up into pools of 1,000 mortgages and sold off, and for the first couple years of this thing, we were being told, oh, well, that just makes it so complicated and then the investors object or the master trustee objects, and so therefore we can't do it.

But what it's been sounding like to me, the more I've dug into this, is that the banks 95 percent of the time do have the authority to do the loan modification if it makes sense, and that this is something that's been sort of waved around as a red herring, like, oh, it's just so complicated, we can't do it, you know…

SUSAN: And I'm just going to interrupt for one second, and then I'll go offline so you can take other calls. But I know for a fact that Hasco(ph) is actually the investment firm that held our mortgage that Deutsche Bank was the trustee for, but Hasco, when you go to them, they're Wells Fargo. They have the same address.

So this is - to me it's a shell game, and I like your perspective. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Okay. Susan, again, congratulations.

SUSAN: Thanks.

CONAN: Well - go ahead, Chris.

ARNOLD: I was going to say, one of the takeaways, you know, we found too - I mean, this caller has spent two and a half years trying to get a loan modification, in the end she did. You know, a lot of people give up along the way, but you know, there's been a lot of cases too where we find people, the woman who you had on at the top of the show who, you know, you look at her case, she was on guaranteed disability income, she could basically afford her house. You know, some mortgage broker guy talked her into a stupid loan. But if you fix the terms, you know, she could stay, and it was a kind of an everybody-wins kind of thing.

You know, she tries for eight months, you know, faxing documents again and again, and they're losing them and whatever. We call, and in two days, it's done, you know, it's fixed.

CONAN: Yeah, because you called.

ARNOLD: Because I called, you know, or you get, you know, the right attorney general involved, or you know, the right housing group that protests in the street with bullhorns and then, you know, they can get something done. But it seems like if it starts to become embarrassing, that a lot of these problems get fixed very quickly.

CONAN: Well, speaking of that, Mashelle Gladney has been watching the mortgage crisis firsthand for a number of years. She's director of the Home Fit Program at the Greater Linden Development Corporation, a neighborhood here in Columbus. She helps people not only buy homes but stay in them, and she joins us here in the studio. Thanks very much for coming in.

Ms. MASHELLE GLADNEY (Greater Linden Organization): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And what are you seeing there, in your neighborhood?

Ms. GLADNEY: Actually, we have quite a high vacancy in the Greater Linden area. We've got a little over 900 or so vacant properties.

CONAN: Out of how many?

Ms. GLADNEY: Oh, probably 2,000 or so-ish.

CONAN: So that's coming up towards 50 percent.

Ms. GLADNEY: So we've got a high vacancy there, and what I'm finding is initially it started out as investor properties because the properties were so inexpensive, it was very easy to buy many properties, and then, of course, when the economy took a downswing, we found that many of the investors didn't have…

CONAN: Enough extra income to cover the investment property.

Ms. GLADNEY: Correct, and they didn't have any tenants in the property. So therefore our neighborhoods are just left, you know, a sham. But what I'm finding out is we've got some very good people in there that had decent income and even credit at the time, but they were just given some very bad loans.

CONAN: And are those now being - can they modify those loans under this program?

Ms. GLADNEY: They can be modified. They can be modified, but what we're finding is when the individual themselves try to go to the servicing companies, again, with the lost paperwork, numerous calls, just very frustrating. However, when the housing counseling agencies get involved, we are seeing a little bit better response.

Now, don't get me wrong. We still have our same frustrations. You're calling customer service. They route you to (unintelligible), and sometimes those calls get lost. They'll tell you to fax the authorization forms so they won't even speak with us on behalf of the client, and then that process, you can wait a week and they'll say, oh, we still don't have your authorization form.

So we have those ups and downs as well. But in my experience, I'm finding out that we're having a little bit more success when we work with the individuals versus them going it by themselves.

CONAN: Nevertheless, you still have that very high vacancy rate. What's the effect on a neighborhood when upwards of 45 percent of the houses are empty?

Ms. GLADNEY: It's just total chaos because you have homeowners that have been there - a great deal of the folks have been there for years, have owned their homes 30, 40, 50 years, and then you see where sometimes the houses get a little bit in disarray. They took in some family members. The younger crowd comes in and they don't maintain as well. And so you've got an elderly person there, however they've got younger folks and they just don't quite keep up the neighborhood.

Then you've got the younger folks trying to move in, wanting to make a difference, and they're buying the properties, along with the investors, thinking they can make a difference, and you know, you have your good investors, you have your bad investors, and everyone isn't in it for home ownership.

Some want decent rental housing. Some people grew up in the neighborhood and would just like to stay in the neighborhood, but all in all, in Linden you just have a sense of pride in home ownership, but we're just fighting that battle day by day. You know, we have a very good crime prevention program. We have block-watch alliances, all those things in place to help people keep their streets, you know, above par.

CONAN: But that strength, as that foreclosure rate goes up, those strengths are sapped.

Ms. GLADNEY: That is true, that's true.

CONAN: And just to expand it, Mike Thompson, just a little bit wider, when neighborhoods like that suddenly have so many vacancies, well, the city gets less money from real estate taxes. All kinds of services, which are even in more demand, are suddenly less available.

Mr. THOMPSON: Here's an example. We were - I think it was in your neighborhood. We sent - one of our reporters was out there just walking up and down the streets with all these vacant properties and found a man who had just bought a house, I think it was in Linden, for $2,200. The assessor had - the Franklin County assessor, the tax collector, had assessed the value at about $9,000. This man had bought 120 properties, and he was, you know, going out and buying up these properties at $2,200 for a house in the capital city of Columbus.

Now, the neighbors, perhaps surprisingly, didn't really seem to mind that, as long as that person was putting money into that house and going to fix it up. They said, you know, any - we'll take anybody. And he also found a couple that have grown up in their neighborhood that went back. And they said, well, this is a great chance for us to buy, to move back to the neighborhood where we grew up. So it was - those people out there. But it's devastating. It's the broken window syndrome, where it just - the neighborhood really suffers with a vacant house.

CONAN: And is anybody in those vacant houses, or are they just empty?

Ms. GLADNEY: In most cases, you do have squatters in there. You have homeless people that are in there. You see a lot of young runaways. You know, you can get a various, you know, mix in there. But you do find, you know, you have your drug houses and, you know, we are steadily, you know, reporting, neighbors are reporting. And sometimes they are a little afraid, so they can call our agency. We take care of it. We have a very good relationship with code enforcement, with the police department, you know, so that we can rid the neighborhoods of those types of things.

CONAN: That's a long fight. Good luck to you.

Ms. GLADNEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Mashelle Gladney was kind enough to join us here in the studio at WOSU. She's the director of the Home Fit Program at the Greater Linden Development Corporation here in Columbus, Ohio. And, again, thanks very much for your time today.

Ms. GLADNEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Get another caller on the line. This is Brian, Brian with us Tucson, Arizona - of course, another epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Go ahead, Brian.

BRIAN (Caller): Thank you, Neal. Thanks for taking my call. I tell you, I'm pretty livid, really. Oh, I started trying to work with Bank of America about four months ago to renegotiate our mortgage on our home. And they have - she has gotten a runaround. They won't assign a case worker to her. They won't listen to, you know, what she's trying to do. And then we get a letter saying, okay. We're going to foreclose and auction your home off in January. So it's unconscionable to me that these banking institutions can take tax dollars and then turn around and have such a low rate of actually trying to modify loans. I read an article that said Bank of America has locked up three percent modification of loans. So, I mean, it just - it's terrible. That's all I can say.

CONAN: Chris Arnold in Boston, that aspect of - these are banks that were helped out by taxpayer dollars in some cases, and that just piles on the frustration.

ARNOLD: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. You know, I mean, these are banks that got tens of billions of dollars in help and, you know - and to be fair to them, you know, they are hiring people. The Bank of America has doubled its staff, and they say they're doing all they can beyond…

BRIAN: Well, I have some reservations about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARNOLD: Well, you know, we went to visit on of their call centers, and I have to say, you know, when I was there, you know, a couple of people were given a little modifications right in front of me. And another person, call comes in and they say, no, you're not qualified. You don't make enough money. And I'm sort of looking over the shoulder of the call center worker. And the person really was qualified. And we asked about it. We pushed it. We challenged - we went to the supervisor. It turns out they did give the person a loan modification. They were qualified. But I said, why is the computer rejecting people who should qualify for this program? And it just seems like there's so many problems that are still gumming up the works even, you know, two years into this thing.

BRIAN: If I could just comment on that, that point specifically, I mean, my wife has talked to different people at the Bank of America. And she continues to hear, oh, in this scenario, you make too much money. In this scenario, you don't make enough money to qualify. So it's kind of lose-lose sick proposition for us.

CONAN: Well, it sounds like the catch-22 program.

BRIAN: Exactly.

CONAN: Yeah. Brian, good luck.

BRIAN: Thank you.

ARNOLD: And Brian, you know, if you want to, Brian, go ahead give us your email or phone number to the producer there before you get off, and maybe we can talk some more.

BRIAN: Thank you.

CONAN: I'll put you on hold, Brian. All right. We're talking - that was Chris Arnold, NPR's correspondent who's covering the housing and mortgage crisis. Mike Thompson, the news director here at WOSU, also with us.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And now let's get Julie on the line. Julie's with us from Shafer, Minnesota.

JULIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JULIE: Thank you for listening to me. We live up in a smaller town about an hour from St. Paul, Minnesota. And we bought a house about five years ago, and it was when the market was good. And a new development went up down the road with over about a hundred homes. About 75 percent of those homes have either gone through foreclosure and then re-bought and otherwise still are through for foreclosure. There's only about maybe one fourth of the homes that have the original homeowners because when the developers got the buyers in there, they set them up, as most loans now, as two incomes and into a bad loan where it can - the amount can change. So, after about six months…

CONAN: Adjustable rate. Yeah.

JULIE: Yup. After about six months, people couldn't keep paying for them. So as our home is for sale, you can go right down the road and buy a brand-new home for $60,000.

CONAN: Yeah. And so this…

JULIE: So it's affecting us personally.

CONAN: Yeah. And this boomerangs on your neighborhood, right?

JULIE: Yes. Exactly. And, I mean, it's not to say that, you know, that bad people are moving in or anything like that. It just affects us and the surrounding communities, just because these developments with the foreclosure rate, why not buy a foreclosed home if it's not trashed?

CONAN: Yeah. Julie, thanks very much for the call. We wish you and your community the best of luck.

JULIE: And as another question…

CONAN: Quickly, if you would.

JULIE: Yup. It's just about - well, all the people that are missing their home, mortgage payments, and then getting them to new mortgage and going through all these different programs. How is that benefitting us that are barely making ends meet, but yet we're still make a lot of payment and until you…

CONAN: Unmodified loans. Yeah.

JULIE: Yup. Until you miss the payment, you're not going to get any breaks from the bank because…

CONAN: Chris Arnold, do you have an answer for her?

ARNOLD: Well, technically, you know, the program's supposed to be available to anybody who qualifies, regardless of whether they've missed payments. But, you know, oftentimes it seems that the people who are behind get the most attention most quickly. And that's something that the administration, I know, is trying to work on, trying to get more people, you know, before they're two months behind on their loan, to get the banks to look them over and consider them.

CONAN: Julie, again, good luck.

JULIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I want to bring it around again to Ohio here, Mike Thompson. You've got all of these houses that are foreclosed. As we heard, some of them are occupied by squatters. Others are empty and not being maintained. What does that do to the local economy which had depended so much in the past on new construction?

THOMPSON: That's what was just described in Minnesota was happening here, back in the late 90s and early 2000s. And one person in our advisory panel said that home sales were treated like auto sales. How much can you afford a month? And that only lasted for a year, until they ballooned. And the entire real estate market in this community suffers because of the glut of properties on the market. Supply and demand - there's a lot of supply now, demand is gone.

CONAN: Not going to change anytime soon. Mike, thanks very much.

THOMPSON: You're welcome.

CONAN: Mike Thompson, news director here at WOSU. Our thanks as well to Chris Arnold, NPR's correspondent who covers housing and mortgage crisis from his home in Boston. And Chris, we know you've been sitting on tenterhooks all day. Good luck.

ARNOLD: Thanks a lot, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up: Test City, USA. For years, Columbus held that title. What products have been tested where you live? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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