By Mike Fitts
Published March 16, 2009
On the fourth day, the line of those needing mortgage help again snaked around the Carolina Coliseum, folks staying under the eaves to stay out of the rain — and, many hoped, to stay out of foreclosure.
More than 10,000 people participated in the first three days of the Save the Dream event, according to its organizers, the nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America. Monday’s fourth day brought a steady march of more seeking the help, which the group offered at no charge.
Brenda James-Pitt, a nurse and case manager at Fort Jackson, was among those who received help last weekend. James-Pitt bought a house almost three years ago to have a place to bring her mother out of a nursing home. She made a down payment and got a loan with a 7% fixed rate. Or so she thought.
The loan company sold her note to another firm, and, to her surprise, her interest rate began to rise. Soon she was being asked to pay 12.3% interest, or about $1,400 per month. Combined with living expenses and the cost of help for her mother during the day, it was too much.
Counselors were able to get her interest rate reduced to a fixed 5%, her monthly payment down to about $800. “It was just a blessing,” she said.
The organization has agreements with many lenders to get reduced rates in order to stave off foreclosure, CEO Bruce Marks said this morning at a news conference.
The operative task, Marks said, is to find out how much the homeowner can afford and rebuild the loan. He and the group are less interested in what happened to put the homeowner in such straits and are focused instead on the way forward.
At the news conference, others who received assistance told their stories of interest rates and payments cut in half. One woman said she told church parishioners about the event Sunday, saying, “It’s for real. Go see for yourself.”
The group brought the drive to Columbia at the request of U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn. He emphasized Monday that homeownership is the “most widespread access to wealth in this country.”
Marks called the Columbia turnout “amazing.” He said his staff members can help the vast majority of people who come to see them, often through the nonprofit’s standing agreements with lenders such as Bank of America and Countrywide.
A tougher group to help is those holding government loans from such groups as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Federal Housing Administration. Clyburn expects homeowner aid packages promoted by the Obama administration to offer relief to many of those customers, he said.
The more exotic financing vehicles that became popular in recent years helped bring on the credit crisis, Marks said, adding that America needs to return to the two most basic types of home loans: fixed-rate or adjustable based on the prime rate’s moves.
“We have to get back to the conventional loans that built our community,” he said.
The Save the Dream event ends today, but the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America operates office in Columbia, Charleston, Charlotte and Augusta. Marks expects to add resources to those offices, given the strong demand in Columbia.
Clyburn advised those who still need help to seek it, whether from Marks’ organization, their lenders or other nonprofit aid groups.
“Don’t stay at home. Don’t go under,” he said.
Reach Mike Fitts at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.