NACA brings free mortgage help to D.C.

More than 160 distressed homeowners were lined up outside the convention center Friday for the NACA "Save the Dream Tour."
More than 160 distressed homeowners were lined up outside the convention center Friday for the NACA "Save the Dream Tour." (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2010

More than 160 distressed homeowners lined up in downtown Washington before dawn Friday in hopes of obtaining better mortgage terms, with help from housing advocacy group Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America.

Clutching financial documents, they began lining up outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at 8 a.m. Thursday for a chance to meet with one of hundreds of NACA counselors on their "Save the Dream Tour," as well as bank loan negotiators.

The Boston housing advocacy group, which works with homeowners to prepare budgets and submit proposals to their lenders for lower mortgage payments, expects that 30,000 people will attend the free D.C. event. The doors opened at 9 a.m. Friday and will stay that way 24 hours a day until July 30. NACA, which usually holds such events for five days, plans to remain in Washington longer to be visible to lawmakers.

"We're showing the country, the politicians and the government how it's done," NACA chief executive Bruce Marks said.

Marks said he used "nonviolent bank terrorism" to get lenders to sign agreements that they would show up at events and negotiate with their debtors face to face. He said his team went into communities and knocked on bank executives' doors, insisting that they listen to those who had borrowed money from them.

Loan negotiators from major firms including Wells Fargo, GMAC and SunTrust sat at tables in rows, discussing mortgage-payment terms with troubled borrowers.

Homeowners waiting in the stifling heat before the event began were surrounded by portable fans, coolers, camping chairs -- and suitcases. Some had flown from as far away as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida and California to seek help.

Those in line had harsh words for their banks. Nadia Morales and her husband traveled from Miami, taking their places near the front of the line Thursday at about 8:30 a.m. Morales said the couple had filed paperwork for a loan modification eight times, with no response.

Ophelia Willis said she sent pages of faxes to her lender and is still waiting for a palatable new repayment plan. She bought her home in District Heights, Md., for $112,000 in February 2009. Now its value is closer to $60,000, and she wants to cut down the amount she has to pay back on the mortgage. "I don't know what's taking so long," Willis said. Her church told her about NACA's event last Sunday, so she came hoping for a solution.

Charlene Twitty found out about NACA from her sister. She inherited her parents' house in Capitol Hill 40 years ago and said lenders persuaded her to take on debt to pay for repairs and maintenance. "The banks don't want to give you anything," she said.

Bob Davis, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, said there are probably circumstances in which the borrower hasn't presented the right information to the lender, and needs counseling. "Others could have fallen through the cracks," he said, adding that major lenders have contracts with NACA and groups like it so that they can find such borrowers.

Sara Brown started talking to NACA before she missed her first mortgage payment this month, in an effort to obtain the information she needed to fight her lender. She wants her bank to reduce the mortgage on her home in Vienna, Va., and needs to buy time while she looks for a job. "My house isn't going to foreclosure," she said.

NACA is visiting the District for its second time. Since holding its first such D.C. event in July 2008, NACA has held 20 nationwide and repeat visits to cities such as Atlanta and Chicago.

A man walked up to Marks on Friday and hugged him. "Miracle!" the man said. Minutes later, a young woman did the same.

Marks shrugged sheepishly and smiled. "I have the best job in the world," he said. And yet, he said, too many Americans don't get the help that they should with their mortgages. "If we didn't do it, nobody would," he said.

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