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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

John Hope Bryant is looking to help the many who can't afford to buy homes. He's the founder of Operation HOPE, which offers seminars on financial literacy in low-income communities.

This week, we're having conversations about the impact of the housing crisis. And as we all know now, those hardest hit are poorer buyers who know little about mortgages and managing money. Bryant is one expert who bristles at talk of subprime borrowers not being up to the challenge of owning homes.

Mr. JOHN HOPE BRYANT (Founder, Operation HOPE): Let me just say it is arrogant for some people to suggest that other people should not or don't deserve or possibly shouldn't be a homeowner. If you're renting and you can afford to make a mortgage payment for the same cost of what you're paying for rent, why wouldn't we want that person to be a stakeholder? They'll be a net contributor to the American dream and they'll feel better about themselves.

Healthy, responsible subprime lending has lifted more poor people into homeownership than anything in the last 50 years. And there's been some fallout because there's been predators and irresponsible lending. What we do with the Hope centers is we assume that everybody's got good common sense and everybody's got a sense of dignity and a desire to do better. But they don't know better.

MONTAGNE: So when they walk in the door, what are you looking at? And what are they looking at?

Mr. BRYANT: When they walk in the front door, they - most borrowers believe they'd be declined from a bank. We can say maybe - a qualified, maybe. So we pull your credit report, with your permission. We all have a nice laugh because it tends - like bus accident. You know, and generally, if you're Hispanic you tend to have no credit, if you're black you tend to have bad credit. Those are generalities but they tend to stick.

We then map out a strategy to get you into a loan approval, get your credit score up. This person tends to also not have a down payment because they say, why should I bother saving money to own a home, it will never happen for me. Fine. We open a savings account for you. For every dollar you put up, we grant you a dollar - up to seventy-five hundred dollars. We match you dollar for dollar.

And by the time we finish with you, you're not a black borrower or Hispanic borrower, you're a green borrower, and every bank in town that's tripping over themselves to fund your loan.

MONTAGNE: Now, you're a nonprofit, as you say, but a - partnered with banks.

Mr. BRYANT: Yes.

MONTAGNE: Since banks have had so much do to with this crisis and didn't -some lenders handing out loans that really weren't right for the borrower. What's in it for the banks that you work with?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, and that's not actually completely true, Renee. Most of these crisis has been led by mortgage brokers who have been misrepresenting underqualified and financially illiterate people from poor to middle class. None ofthese folks have any relationship with each other than that transaction. Banks have a long-term relationship with their borrowers. And we stand next to federally insured, preferably publicly traded banks because we don't want to stand next to anybody who doesn't have as much to lose, reputationally, as we do. We've made about a thousand home loans and small-business loans through our Hope centers, and we don't have any record of any of our loans going bad.

MONTAGNE: I would ask you about people who you haven't served but might be able to in this conversation. In a couple of weeks, many borrowers will see their adjustable rate mortgages reset to fall rates, and the new payments might likely be unaffordable for many of them. What do you suggest borrowers do if they can't afford to make payments?

Mr. BRYANT: You mean after I say they should scream. After that point, after screaming...

MONTAGNE: Yes.

Mr. BRYANT: Right. People are ashamed, Renee, that they don't understand money. The first thing you've got to do with to do something. Get on the phone with your lender and ask, can you be transferred to the department to talk about restructuring your loan? You'd be amazed at the response that you will get. Or call a credit counselor. So financial literacy is critical to the health of this economy, and not just poor people.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. BRYANT: It's my honor. Anytime.

MONTAGNE: John Hope Bryant is founder of Operation Hope. He is the author of "Banking On Our Future," which is a book about financial literacy.

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