Troubled homeowners head to convention for help

A scene from the NACA Save the Dream event in Los Angeles in October 2010.

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Tess Vigeland: A few months ago rescuers came to our little town here on the Pacific Ocean. Not for a standard earthquake, but to treat victims of the health care quake. It was a massive, rolling MASH unit, and thousands of people showed up for help with their aches and pains, because they didn't have insurance.

Well this past weekend, another MASH unit of sorts rolled into town. This time, hoping to provide at least palliative care to people who are house-sick: in desperate need of mortgage assistance. Marketplace's Adriene Hill went to the scene.


Adriene Hill: Down at the Los Angeles Convention Center thousands of people are packed into a large hall, clutching stacks of paper, waiting and waiting. They're shuffled from one line to another. The crowd claps when groups are summoned, excited to move.

The event is put on by the non-profit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA. It runs 24 hours a day for five days and will help tens of thousands of people.

Among them, Maria Lopez and her husband Paul. She's a preschool teacher, he's a union electrician.

Paul Lopez: We're one of those blue-collar families that's just living check to check.

They've been charging their groceries on their credit card to try to keep up with their mortgage, but sometimes they've had to pay late, and that means extra fees.

Paul Lopez: Yes, I've contacted many lenders and brokers over the last year to see if there was any aid or relief we could obtain. But unfortunately with our personal circumstances, there wasn't much anyone could do for us.

So they're here, looking for help.

Maria Lopez: Whatever lowers our mortgage payments so we can get some breathing space.

They've gone through orientation, now they're sitting down with a counselor, who goes though every detail of the family budget -- all the assets and bills. How much for phones? How much for power? And on and on.

After counseling, there's more waiting, this time for the lender. People chat, take catnaps, fiddle with their papers, sit in metal folding chairs. Every so often, a rep calls out a name and calls people up to the lenders' table.

I hear over and over that people had tried to go through their banks, but weren't getting any help over the phone. I ask Mike Drawdy about that complaint. He heads up the Bank of America team that's here.

Mike Drawdy: I think the difference is, we could spend a lot more time with a customer here.

And he says by the time a customer makes it to the lenders' area, NACA has made sure they have all their paperwork, that everything is in order. He tells me that so far, clients aren't asking about Bank of America's decision to suspend some foreclosures; they're probably focused on longer term help.

Bruce Marks is the head of NACA. His organization was here in Los Angeles a year ago.

Bruce Marks: I'd love to tell you that it's gotten better, that the demand is not greater. It's just as big and, really discouraging, I think it's even bigger.

He says there are still plenty of homeowners with sub-prime loans they can't afford, but this time around, there are also homeowners who are struggling because of the recession. Marks says 80 percent of the people who come to the event will get some sort of relief in the next month or so.

Some get help right here, including Dewana Hubbard.

Dewana Hubbard: Today meant whether I was going to go get moving boxes or just be able to embrace my kids and keep it moving forward.

She's been at the convention center trying to get help for two and a half days, sometimes sleeping in her car. She looks really tired but with a thin smile of relief, or maybe calm.

Hubbard: This is done. I'm faxing the paperwork. They generate the loan docs, I sign and I start my payments in November. I'm on my way.

Hubbard clasps a piece of paper in her hands with her new loan terms on it: instead of coming up with $4,300 a month, now she owes just $1,700. A number that she says is finally doable.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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