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Facing foreclosure? Group helps homeowners restructure their mortgages in one day

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2009 - Helping homeowners with unaffordable mortgages get same-day loan restructuring is the goal of a nonprofit housing organization's national "Save the Dream Tour" that will set up shop in St. Louis for four days, starting July 31.

About 250 counselors from the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America will be available during the day-long sessions at St. Louis University's Chaifetz Arena to provide free counseling to individual homeowners and help them restructure their loans with lenders and servicers who will have representatives on site.

The organization hopes to attract thousands of homeowners from Missouri and neighboring states, said Patrick Quigley, a mortgage consultant with the St. Louis office of NACA, which provides HUD-certified housing counseling to troubled homeowners. The 10-city tour opened Friday in Cleveland and then heads to Chicago.

"At our last event in South Carolina in March, over 10,000 people showed up over a four-day period,'' according to Quigley.

The assistance is available to homeowners with unaffordable mortgages who live in their homes -- not investors. The goal is to renegotiate the terms of high-interest rate loans and adjustable rate mortgages into affordable monthly payments with permanent interest rates ranging from 2 to 5 percent. In some cases, the loan principal could be reduced, according to a flyer NACA is distributing about the event.

"We've rented the place for four days, and we'll be counseling all day,'' Quigley said. "It's unprecedented.''

Still no end in sight for foreclosures

Fueled now by the recession, the nation's foreclosure crisis shows no signs of ending as growing numbers of unemployed Americans struggle to pay their mortgages. More than 1.5 million U.S. homes were affected in the first half of 2009, according to statistics released Thursday by RealtyTrac Inc., which compiles national foreclosure listings.

During the month of June, 336,173 households received at least one foreclosure-related notice -- about one in every 380 homes. Although foreclosures in Missouri for June were down by 10 percent compared to June 2008, 3,100 properties in the state received some type of foreclosure notice last month.

The St. Louis NACA office continues to field calls daily from local homeowners seeking relief, and Quigley sees no indication that the crisis is bottoming out. Although some lenders are now aggressively pursuing solutions with homeowners, others are still slow to respond, he said.

"The solutions have come late to the game,'' Quigley said. "The problem now is we're at a critical mass, and foreclosures continue to rise.''

The idea behind the foreclosure prevention tour idea is to put a stopper in the flow of foreclosures with same-day loan restructuring that can otherwise take weeks and months to negotiate, he said. Nationwide, NACA has counseled more about 65,000 homeowners in the last 18 months and hopes to reach at least 250,000 during the national blitz.

NACA is a nonprofit community advocacy and homeownership organization founded in Boston in 1988 with the goal of building strong neighborhoods in urban and rural areas nationwide through affordable homeownership.

St. Louis area homeowners who have been assisted by NACA are helping to get the word out and will be volunteering at the event.

Anita Curran of St. Louis credits the organization with helping her save the 100-year-old brick home on Ann Avenue that she has owned since 1989. She tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate terms with Countrywide after the interest rate on her adjustable rate mortgage jumped past 9.5 percent and her monthly payments rose from $800 to more than $1,800.

NACA, which has legally binding agreements with a host of lenders, was able to help Curran negotiate a fixed 2.75 percent interest rate with payments -- including insurance and tax escrow -- of about $1,000 a month.

Curran, who works as a property manager, said she had planned to refinance before the interest rate adjusted but got caught in the housing market collapse last summer when lenders stopped refinancing.

"It was like Hurricane Katrina without the water,'' Curran says of the foreclosure crisis. "Nobody was sure of anything.''

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.