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White House: Troubled Homeowners "In The Neighborhood"

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First I have to apologize. I honestly thought this was something of a stunt. I got a press release from the Neighborhood Assistance Coalition of America (NACA) last week about a 5 day event they would be holding in DC to help troubled borrowers restructure their loans.

I’ve done a lot of stories on NACA, a non-profitthat has been at the forefront of the fight to save homeownership. Bruce Marks, its insuppressible, un-interruptible leader, has been on possibly every news program in America and beyond over the past year, talking up the landmark NACA agreement with lenders like Countrywide and JP Morgan.

NACA does all the legwork with the borrower, gets documentation of all their debt and income, and makes an offer to the lender for a lower interest rate. It works, because the lenders know it will cost them less to keep the loan at the lower rate than to foreclose, but it’s on a case-by-case basis and takes a lot of time, despite the dozens of NACA offices now spread across the country.

So when I heard about this event, knowing that it would coincide with action on the Hill over the housing bill, I figured it was more about publicity than actual help. I was wrong. I walked over the Capitol Hilton, just two blocks north of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, expecting to see a few tables and a big podium for Bruce. Instead I found a veritable army of NACA workers clad in bright yellow T-shirts, hundreds of computers, scanners, fax machines and document folders—and hoards and hoards of borrowers. On day three they had logged over six thousand people, and the lines were still forming.

The NACA effort is costing the group an estimated $1.5 million, and they’re planning to do this all over the country; the savings to the borrowers will be well more than that. The people came in from all over the Northeast on a 90 degree+ DC day, bearing pay stubs, car loans, credit card bills, mortgage documents, skeptical expressions and restless toddlers. Many had already tried contacting their lenders to no avail. Most, but not all, are leaving with restructured loans, that is, not new loans, but the same loan with a reduced interest rate. I spoke to one young couple whose loan could be reduced from seven to 3 percent.

This is just a start. The Comptroller of The Currency, John Dugan, showed up just to see it all. He looked somewhat bewildered by the whole thing, the scope of the crowds. “It’s not going to be enough by itself,” he told me. I asked if he was surprised at the number of people showing up: “No, not a surprise to me, I’m sad to say.”

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com