Mortgage Help Draws Crowds to Conn.'s Gold Coast

Hundreds of people trying to save their homes from foreclosure flocked to Connecticut's wealthy Gold Coast on Saturday to meet with counselors about ways to refinance their mortgages amid the nation's housing market meltdown.
The “Save the Dream'' forum, coordinated by the nonprofit community advocacy group Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America (NACA), was expected to draw several hundred more people Sunday and Monday for financial counseling and mortgage assistance.
Stamford sits in the midst of one of the nation's wealthiest areas, and among the regions particularly hard-hit by the housing market collapse. Nearby Greenwich and other suburbs are home to many of Wall Street's wealthiest executives and financial managers.
NACA officials say hundreds of their volunteers and participants at the weekend workshops plan to protest Sunday in front of the homes of some of those executives, sporting bright yellow shirts that read, “Stop Loan Sharks.''
Bruce Marks, chief executive officer of Boston-based NACA, said Congress and the financial industry need to be accountable for their role in the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.
“We saw this scheme out there and pleaded with Congress not to let Fannie Mae do this, or Freddie Mac,'' he said, referring to the government-sponsored mortgage programs.
With Congress considering a new tax credit intended to turn around the battered housing market, real estate lobbyists are pressing the government to spend billions to temporarily subsidize lower mortgage rates.
They were looking optimistically to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's planned announcement Monday of a new effort to prop up the banking industry and prevent foreclosures.
Homeowners who came to Saturday's forum in Stamford hoped for more immediate answers, though, many saying they were barely meeting their loan payments or had fallen behind.
NACA organizers said more than 1,500 people signed up in advance, but they expect hundreds more to attend as walk-ins without appointments. They say a similar event last summer in Washington, D.C., drew up to 20,000 people.
Nate Parrish, 43, was among hundreds of homeowners who sat with counselors at cafe tables in a Stamford hotel ballroom, scrutinizing their finances line by line.
When his wife lost her job as a hospice nurse, the truck driver took a second job driving big rigs at night to meet their mortgage payments.
So far, he said, they have not missed a payment on the house they bought for $160,000 in 2000 in Springfield, Mass., but Parrish says each month is a balancing act.
“I'm not behind, but I'm trying to be ahead,'' he said. “You can put your head down and do it, but you're almost at a point where you can't really make any progress anymore. All you can do is exist.''
Others at Saturday's forum had already fallen behind on subprime mortgages as their rates and payments changed, their jobs disappeared or their home values plunged.
Kathleen McGee, 40, of Oxford, has seen her interest rate move from 6.99 percent to 9.99 percent on her modest Cape home -- a house that now faces foreclosure as she fell behind on payments after she lost her job and her husband experienced health problems.
Unless she can refinance her loan, she must pay $10,000 to $12,000 to the bank to catch up on late payments and commit to $3,200 a month, she said Saturday.
It's far from the picture she had in her mind when they got the loan several years ago.
“We were fully aware of what we were getting into, but everyone thinks it's going to get better in two years,'' she said. “I felt it was my only choice.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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