MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.
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And Im Robert Siegel.
Over the past couple of years, as the foreclosure crisis has grown, NPR has been following the efforts of a pretty colorful housing advocate. His name is Bruce Marks and he heads up the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, NACA.
As NPRs Chris Arnold reports, lately Marks has been on tour, where he says hes helped bring down loan payments for nearly 100,000 homeowners.
CHRIS ARNOLD: Bruce Marks only half-jokingly calls himself a nonviolent bank terrorist. Back last winter, we did a story on Marks when he led several hundred people down the driveway and up to the mansion of a house where John Mack lives. Mack is the CEO of Morgan Stanley.
Unidentified Group: Save our homes, save our homes...
Mr. BRUCE MARKS (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America): Its so outrageous. While Americans are losing their homes by the millions, hes living here in this beautiful house.
ARNOLD: Marks has protested plenty of other executives who he says are not doing enough to avoid foreclosures. Hes even posted on his Web site their photos and home phone numbers. Morgan Stanley said its working with Markss group. And for Marks, its not just about the bullhorns. For 20 years, hes run a nonprofit that makes affordable home loans. And over the past year, hes doubled his staff and now has 1,200 employees nationwide.
Unidentified Woman: If you have any question, please feel free to locate your team.
ARNOLD: We caught up with Marks at a very different sort of event in San Francisco. Lately, Marks has been running a foreclosure help road show. He calls it the Save The Dream Tour. His group NACA rents out a stadium for several days, and a ton of people show up.
Mr. MARKS: In Los Angeles, we had over 50,000 people there, then in Phoenix, over 40,000 people. Vegas - over 45,000 people.
ARNOLD: Housing counselors are set up at hundreds of tables across the floor of the stadium. Homeowners are told to bring their loan documents, W-2s and other paperwork. Through his protest, Marks has pressured many of the major banks and other so-called loan servicing companies to sign agreements to work with him, and so they send representative here, too. And, Marks says over the past year, his groups been able to re-negotiate loans and get payments lowered for more than 90,000 homeowners.
Ms. BERNICE JACKSON: I was in Las Vegas last weekend and I finished up here today.
ARNOLD: 62-year-old Bernice Jackson is from Los Angeles. She drove hundreds of miles to come for these events. Jacksons husband is retired and theyre on a fixed income. She says a mortgage broker lied to them and she got into a loan that she just couldnt afford.
Ms. JACKSON: Oh yeah. And I had a very high interest rate, and through NACA and the help of the servicers, I got the note reduced to two percent. So my note went from almost $4,000 a month to $1,600 a month. Yes, Im very excited, very happy.
ARNOLD: No, that may sound too good to be true. But Markss group pushes the banks to try to get a new payment that the homeowner can really afford. And that can make sense for the banks or the investors who own the loans. And actually a very big-time investor has shown up here at this event.
Mr. SCOTT SIMON (Managing Director, Pimco): Yeah, its actually pretty unbelievable. I wanted to come see what theyre doing and how theyre doing it. And its pretty impressive.
ARNOLD: Scott Simon is the managing director for Pimco, thats an investment firm that manages some $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities. That makes him one of the biggest mortgage investors in the entire world. And here he is, standing in the midst of thousands of people looking to pay investors like him less money, and he thinks thats a good idea. In fact, hed actually like to see more people getting their principal reduced, thats the amount that they owe. He says that too many people are upside-down owing way more than their house is worth. And that doesnt give them much of an incentive to keep their house.
Mr. SIMON: Well, I think that is right because youre going to potentially have as many as seven million people going into foreclosure unless theyre helped over the next three years. So, you know, youre talking about 10 percent of households. You know, foreclosure is almost always the absolute worst thing that can happen its bad for the homeowner, its bad for the neighborhood, its bad for the investors, its bad for the system.
ARNOLD: Simon would like to see more workouts where investors like him forgive a chunk of principal so that the loan can be refinanced at a market rate and the borrower isnt upside-down anymore. Other investors have resisted these efforts. They think too many homeowners wont make even the lower payments, so theyll get foreclosed on anyway. But Bruce Marks estimates that about 75 percent of the homeowners that NACA gets a loan modification for keep making their payments.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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