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The waiting game: Some local homeowners still haven't gotten mortgage help from NACA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2009, Three months after 40,000 people attended a highly publicized foreclosure prevention event held in St. Louis by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, homeowners tell the St. Louis Beacon they are still waiting for their promised loan restructures.

Bruce Marks, CEO of the national nonprofit advocacy group, told the Beacon on Sept. 21 that the "vast majority" of mortgage restructures would be completed by Sept. 30 for the homeowners who attended his organization's "Save the Dream Tour'' at the Chaifetz Arena July 31-Aug. 3.

But one month after that September deadline, homeowners such as Laurence Levett of Florissant say they are still waiting to hear from the Boston-based nonprofit, commonly known as NACA, despite repeated attempts to contact the organization.

"I'm disappointed. I don't know what's going on with NACA because they won't talk to me,'' said Levett, who spent 15 hours over two days waiting with thousands of other financially troubled homeowners for a chance to talk to a NACA counselor.

The Beacon reached Marks by phone on Friday for an update, but he said that both he and his communications director Darren Duarte were tied up and unavailable. He said they would get back to the Beacon early next week.

NACA rented the arena for its four-day event in St. Louis and brought in several hundred housing counselors who set up shop on the arena floor. The organization's promotional material promised "same-day solutions" for homeowners through restructured mortgages that would be approved onsite by representatives of some of the nation's largest lenders.

Levett was told that he qualified for a loan restructure that would lower his interest rate and his monthly mortgage payment -- and that he would get a response from his lender within five days. That was on Aug. 3. He is still waiting.

"I've phone, I've emailed and I've faxed,'' Levett said. "They're helping somebody, but they're not helping me.''

'I'm less hopeful today'

According to the NACA website, 350,000 people have participated in the 11-city "Save the Dream Tour" that concluded in San Francisco on Oct. 20. Those cities include some of the hardest hit in the foreclosure crisis: Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The tour has received national publicity, including recent news features on CBS and ABC.

Levett, who works as a courier, says his financial situation has worsened over the past three months, and he has had to depend on help from his family to stay current on his mortgage. He and his wife bought their small three-bedroom ranch-style house five years ago.

When the Beacon talked to Levett in September, he was hopeful that NACA would fix his mortgage problems.

"I'm less hopeful today,'' he said on Thursday. "My faith in NACA's abilities, they're going down pretty quick.''

Levett is concerned that NACA cannot handle the thousands of people who have signed up for help -- and that he has been pushed to the sidelines because he is not in immediate danger of foreclosure.

"The volume is just too large, and that's why they have to pick and choose who gets help," Levett said. "But at the same time, that's not my problem. I want everybody to get help. But if I got in before 200,000 other people, I want my help first."

In the meantime, Levett said he contacted Chase, his loan servicer, to see if they could work out a new loan agreement. Chase declined, saying that because they have received a restructure request on his behalf from NACA they cannot work with him directly but will have to work through NACA.

"I'm pretty frustrated at this point. Why do I have to go through NACA now when NACA is not responding," Levett said.

How many helped? NACA can't say

NACA, which is a HUD-certified agency, does not charge homeowners for its foreclosure counseling services. The group receives federal funds from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program, including $3.5 million from a grant awarded on Oct. 1. In 2008, the organization was awarded two grants totaling $31 million.

On Aug. 3, the last day of the "Save the Dream Tour" in St. Louis, the Beacon observed the process at Chaifetz for several hours. Throughout the day, happy homeowners, microphone in hand, addressed the arena with testimonials about their successes in having their mortgages restructured or being granted forbearances by their lenders. And satisfied NACA clients offered testimonials at a press conference run by Marks the week before the St. Louis event.

After the September story, Veronica Macklin of St. Louis phoned the Beacon to say that she had attended the event at Chaifetz and that NACA had been able to arrange a restructure with her lender, Nationstar Mortgage. Macklin said she was pleased with the outcome, though she pointed out that -- unlike most of the thousands who attended -- she is not in financial trouble and was just trying to fix a bad mortgage.

During the September interview, the Beacon asked Marks for numbers detailing how many St. Louis cases had been completed to that point and how many were pending. He would say only that "it's a rolling number" and that the focus was on completing the pending cases before the tour resumed in Los Angeles.

Still waiting in Maplewood

The day after the Beacon's story was published in September, Sherre Waggoner of Maplewood said she was contacted by NACA representatives who have given her verbal assurances that she will get the mortgage restructure she was promised at the "Save the Dream Tour.''

Waggoner, who was featured prominently in the story, had grown increasingly worried because she had been unable to reach NACA after receiving correspondence from her lender, Wells Fargo, that was contrary to the terms she had been promised. Although she walked out of the arena without a written, signed agreement, Waggoner thought she had something nearly as good: The Wells Fargo representative she had met had written her name and phone number -- and the promised new interest rate -- on the cover of the workbook Waggoner had been given by NACA.

Waggoner said she still has not been able to reach the Wells Fargo representative, and she continues to get worrisome letters that contradict what NACA is telling her. She continues to request written assurance from NACA that she will get the terms she was promised: a reduction in her mortgage interest rate to 4.375 percent from 6.375 percent -- which will take about $220 off her $891 monthly payment.

Waggoner received another email on Friday from a NACA representative telling her that Wells Fargo is waiting on investor approval from Freddie Mac.

She is still bothered that the Wells Fargo representative who made face-to-face promises to her seems to have disappeared. At this point, Waggoner wants NACA to give her something in writing.

"I think it's still possible that I've been duped, and I'm very concerned,'' Waggoner said. "I'm not asking for that much -- even just an email with a signature block with NACA and their title would be sufficient for me.'' 

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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