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It’s Friday afternoon, which means that the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America is some 170 consecutive hours into one of the bigger projects D.C.’s convention center has ever hosted: Modifying tens of thousands of mortgages to help people hang on to their homes.
It’s a serious undertaking. NACA counselors have been processing homeowners around the clock for a week now, and a staff enclosure has stacked bottles of Advil right next to the bullhorns. And it’s critical to avoid bottlenecks: Hundreds of people sit patiently in ranks of chairs waiting for their turn in the next stage of the process, entertained by a few people who had made it through, and told their stories from a a podium in the middle of the vast exhibition hall floor.
The event in D.C. two years ago, NACA’s first mortgage rescue shindig, helped some 20,000 people. Building on that success, the organization took the show on the road, hitting 11 cities on a “Save the Dream” tour around the country. As of yesterday, the event had already hit the 20,000 people mark, and will run a day longer than planned in order to get more people through.
This time around, though, the problems homeowners face are a little different than in 2008, says media director Darren Duarte. Back then, they were flooded by junk loans that had no chance of success. Now, NACA is seeing more and more people with more reasonable loans that they can no longer pay because of a lost job or reduced hours.
The foreclosure crisis has hit D.C. hard, but many thousands who’ve been here over the last week are from regions further afield. On Sunday, ten buses arrived from Georgia. People come from up and down the eastern seaboard, and from as far away as California, drawn by the possibility of saving their homes in one day.
The primary virtue of the NACA program is face time with a lender that is legally obligated to meet the homeowner at some point where the mortgage becomes affordable—sometimes that means going as low as two percent interest, or even reducing the principal of the loan.
“They can see, ‘This person’s for real. This person’s not lying to me. I see their hardship,’” explains Duarte. This year, homeowners are further helped by a forensic audit service that finds any defect in the loan as issued, which helps to build a case for clemency. It turns out that 99 percent of loans have some kind of irregularity—creations of a time when credit came easy.
The whole atmosphere is carefully non-judgmental, placing blame on the banks that had handed out bad loans in the first place.
“As family, we take care of each other,” said a NACA staffer, introducing the workshop that all applicants go through before meeting with a counselor. “Everything is free.”
NACA isn’t just a homeowner assistance organization, though. Its founder, Bruce Marks, is a former hotel union organizer on a rampage against subprime lenders, and the Wall Street Journal called NACA “one of the loudest scourges of the banking industry in the post-bubble economy.” Fittingly, yesterday morning, the group filed outside the Convention Center to be visible when President Barack Obama came through on the way to speak at the National Urban League convention, saying he wasn’t doing enough to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
In the mean time, though, it’s a test of patience. In the waiting areas, applicants complained to a NACA official that people were jumping up in line. One lady rolled her eyes.
“It’s like when they talk about Woodstock, they’re going to talk about NACA,” she said.
(Video courtesy of NACA)