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Eight weeks later, homeowners still wait for NACA to make good on its promises, Part 2

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2009 - Some of the 40,000 homeowners who attended the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's well-publicized "Save the Dream Tour" for financially troubled homeowners in St. Louis this summer say they are still waiting to hear about the status of the "same-day" solutions promoted by the organization.

NACA, a national nonprofit advocacy group based in Boston, brought several hundred housing counselors and set up what organizers called a "mobile servicing operation" on the floor of the Chaifetz Arena for four days, July 31-Aug. 3. Promotional material promised "same-day solutions" for homeowners by restructuring mortgages that would be approved onsite by representatives of some of the nation's largest lenders. Those restructures could include interest rate reductions to as low as 2 percent and, in some cases, reductions in principal.

NACA, a HUD-certified agency, does not charge for its counseling services.

Nationwide, 180,000 people have attended its "Save the Dream" events in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland and Atlanta, the group says. NACA will be in Los Angeles this weekend, and also plans to visit Phoenix, Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif.

The Beacon observed the event for several hours on Aug. 3 and watched as several homeowners, microphone in hand, addressed the arena about their successes in getting loan restructures or forbearances.

Asked for numbers detailing how many St. Louis restructures have been completed and how many are pending, Bruce Marks, the CEO of NACA, would say only that "it's a rolling number'' and that the focus is on completing pending cases before the tour resumes in Los Angeles. The "vast majority" will be completed by the end of this week, he told the Beacon on Monday.

The Beacon also talked to several homeowners at the event who agreed to take part in follow-up interviews. All report that their cases are still pending. Here are the experiences of two of them:

The Levetts of Florissant: 'I know it can work'

Evelyn and Laurence Levett of the Florissant area attended the NACA event on Aug. 3 and were told they would have an answer on their mortgage restructure in five days. Their case is still pending.

Laurence Levett said they bought their three-bedroom ranch-style home in an unincorporated area of St. Louis County five years ago, putting down a sizeable down payment. The couple, married 22 years next month, have two daughters.

Levett, who works as a courier, said they had no trouble making their monthly mortgage payments until the worsening recession caused his hours to be cut.

He believes his servicer is responsible for the delay in approving his restructure because he has continued to make his mortgage payments.

"I believe the mortgage company is stalling on me because they were getting their money,'' Levett said.

Since attending the NACA event, Levett said he has fallen about a month behind on his mortgage, and he plans to contact NACA to see if the organization can pressure his servicer. He is confident that NACA will complete his loan restructure because he has talked to members of his church who say they have been helped.

"I know it can work, and it has worked for some people,'' Levett said.

Levett has checked his case file online at the NACA website.

"It just says 'submitted' right now, and it's been that way for a while,'' Levett said. "I need to follow up to tell them I'm still out here -- they've been in so many different cities.''

Levett said that he will continue to think positive and work hard to pay his family's bills, just as he always has.

"At this point, I just have to modify my hours, work more -- and get to be very tired. That's about all I can do. My wife has another job now. We'll make it work somehow,'' he said.

The Greens of Lake St. Louis: Soldiering on

Kelly and Chris Green went to the Chaifetz Arena on the afternoon of the "Save the Dream" event's last day in St. Louis because her sister had attended and was promised a mortgage restructure that would cut her payments by about $200 a month.

"We went because we were running out of options,'' said Kelly Green.

She said they'd had a series of financial setbacks since buying their three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot house last fall: The home needed costly repairs, Chris Green lost his job and then his car was totaled in an accident. He has since found a new job, but she is pregnant with their second child and will soon be taking leave from her part-time job. They had arranged with their lender to make half-payments on their mortgage for four months but were facing double payments to catch up.

"If I can't pay a $900 payment, how will I pay $1,800?'' she said

Because thousands of people were already waiting on Aug. 3, the Greens were unable to meet with a counselor that day. They were instructed to submit their information to NACA online and then had a phone interview with a NACA counselor. Their restructure request was submitted to their servicer on Aug. 17, according to their NACA case file, which they check online.

Since then, Kelly Green says, they haven't heard from NACA. Their restructure is still pending -- and she said her sister's restructure has also not been finalized.

The Greens aren't waiting for NACA, she said. She has been working directly with her lender and is trying to work out a modification. The couple has cut expenses, including selling a car so they could avoid making car payments. She said it is frustrating dealing with lenders who don't seem to care about the toll the recession is having on people.

"Our lives change, but our mortgage payments stay the same,'' she said.

Kelly Green says she has found it easier at this point to get information from her bank than from NACA because she has been given personal contacts to call.

The Greens both belong to the Missouri National Guard and met while serving in Iraq. She said that it feels as though they are starting over again -- just as they did when they returned from Iraq.

"It's a long road, but it will get better," said Green, who plans to complete her nursing studies after her baby is born.

Green said she thought the NACA event sounded "too good to be true,'' but she went because of her sister's experience. But she worries that it could turn out to be "false hope" -- and that's why she is working directly with her lender.

"That's what I would encourage other people to do -- just call their mortgage company. Don't let it go. There are options with the mortgage company, but they have to make sure everything on their end is in the proper order first. I talk to U.S. Bank more than NACA because it's easier,'' she said.

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.