Realty Check

Foreclosure Crisis Up Close and In Person

Andrew Bret Wallis | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

As a reporter covering the housing market for going on six years, I will be the first to admit that I often get mired in the numbers, the policies and the politics of this unprecedented housing crisis.

There are so many reports, so many economic analyses, and so many administration initiatives to cover that the words "foreclosure crisis" often sound as nebulous as "Global Warming" or "Peace in the Middle East."

Today I am at the Washington DC Convention Center covering the NACA "Save the Dream Event."

The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a Boston-based non-profit, has been around for many years, but in the last four years they have been at the forefront of foreclosure prevention.

Preventing Foreclosures

A few years back they signed proprietary agreements with the major lenders to modify loans to "affordable payments."

Then they began holding large scale "events" in major cities where borrowers come in, file all their paperwork with a NACA representative and then go across the room and meet face to face with a representative of their lender.

This particular event runs 24 hours a day for eight days, the largest, longest, most impressive event yet.

NACA's chief, Bruce Marks, who presides over these events like a hands-on Godfather, claims they will see 60,000 borrowers over the next 8 days, and he also claims 80 percent of those borrowers will get modifications. Roughly 10 percent will get principal reductions, while most will get new interest rates as low as 2 and 3 percent fixed for the life of the loan. No temporary deals here.

We got a three percent interest rate, a fixed rate and our mortgage payment went down about 300 dollars, almost 400 dollars a month."
Jacqueline Lander

My question, over and over to Marks is, if the banks will do this here (and Bank of America has 130 counselors here today), why don't they do it in the government's mortgage bailout program??

"This is not a complicated process," begins Marks. "It’s a three-step process; do an orientation, you meet with a counselor to determine an affordable mortgage payment, you go to your lender to get the job done. Same day."

I spoke with many borrowers who came here with high hopes.

One, Jacqueline Lander was struggling with her mortgage payments due to high medical bills for her infant child.

The Housing Fix -- A CNBC Special Report >> See Complete Coverage

"We got what we came for, actually a lot more than what we came for," she told me. "We got a three percent interest rate, a fixed rate and our mortgage payment went down about 300 dollars, almost 400 dollars a month."

Not all the stories have happy endings.

Steve and Elizabeth Digangi drove overnight from Mahopac, NY, to get on line at 6am. Elizabeth is on disability from her job as a health care worker. She has been on the phone with her lender for months but hasn't gotten anywhere (likely because she and her husband are still paying the mortgage). They are borrowing and struggling to do it. On the last call with the lender, JP Morgan Chase , Elizabeth says the representative said they had all they needed but it could still take 60 days for an answer.

"I don’t want to wait 30 or 60 days," Elizabeth said in tears of frustration. "I don't want to foreclose, I want my home." They have been living there for 19 years. Unfortunately her lender isn't here today due to a dispute with NACA and is holding its own event across town. The Digangis are now back in their car headed over there.

Now I know a lot of you will argue that many of these folks got in over their heads and got what they deserved. Trust me, every time they announce a new completed modification (which they do over the loudspeaker in this cavernous convention hall) it makes me simmer a little that someone is walking out of here with a three percent fixed forever loan, while I'm still paying close to 6 percent. I'm also not thrilled some of these folks will get principal reductions. I'm quite sure many folks here are trying to game the system, but most are not.

Hard as it is to swallow, in times of crisis, financial or otherwise, the line between what's fair and what's necessary blurs necessarily, and we often lose sight of that.

Questions?  Comments?