Despite housing uptick, US tour to stop foreclosure carries on
* NACA has hosted more than 100 events to assist homeowners
Group plays middleman between borrowers and banks
* Foreclosures down from last year, but problem persists
By Rick Rothacker
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Dec 7 (Reuters) - When the non-profit group Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America held its first foreclosure-prevention event in 2008, 8,000 people were waiting in line at 4 a.m. to get inside on the final day, said chief executive Bruce Marks.
The crowds are smaller now, but the non-profit organization is still holding events around the United States to help homeowners obtain loan modifications from banks. As many as 5,000 people are expected to attend a five-day event in Charlotte, North Carolina, that runs through Monday.
NACA's ongoing efforts show how, despite improving signs in the housing market, borrowers are still looking for help reducing their mortgage payments.
In October, foreclosure filings were down 19 percent from the same month last year, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate data provider. But with more than 186,000 properties in foreclosure nationwide, there is still plenty for NACA to do.
The group is putting on its 43rd and final event of the year in Charlotte and plans 24 more next year. In more than 100 events, NACA says it has helped more than 200,000 homeowners obtain loan modifications.
"You can say a lot of things about us, but we are relentless," Marks, who founded the Boston-based organization in 1998, said in an interview.
NACA first gained attention for confronting banks about predatory lending practices and then for launching a program that offers affordable mortgages to low- and moderate income borrowers. When the foreclosure crisis erupted, fueled by subprime loans with high interest rates, the group became the first to organize events offering one-stop assistance to homeowners, Marks said.
At the events, NACA plays the middleman, connecting homeowners who are behind on their payments with big lenders such as Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Walking from station to station in the cavernous exhibit floor in Charlotte's convention center, borrowers deliver mortgage documents, meet with counselors who help with budgeting and then talk with the banks. The goal is to get borrowers decisions on loan modification on the same day.
Banks in recent years have started holding their own events for their customers, but Marks said NACA still has an important role to play. That's because borrowers are often wary of talking with their lenders, he said.
"The banks have lost the trust of the American people, regardless of what they do," he said.
Starting this year, NACA has offered mortgages for home purchases at its events. It is also helping people submit requests for foreclosure reviews, a federal government program designed to compensate homeowners who lost their homes because of errors in the foreclosure process. The deadline is the end of this month.
Charlotte homeowner Wil Jones, 48, said he came to the event on Friday because he is behind on his mortgage payments after suffering financial problems. JPMorgan has already denied his request for a modification three times, he said. "I wanted to see if NACA can help," Jones said.
After more than four years, Marks is hoping his home-saving tour will come to an end. "The ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of the modification business," Marks said.
(Reporting By Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)