Volunteer group in town to modify mortgages

Families, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Hundreds of them lined up — many before dawn — hoping the sun would soon set on their mounting mortgage problems.

At the front of the line was Daniel Corduneanu, his wife Lavinia Corduneanu and their brother-in-law Stefan Lazarean. With them were a handful of friends from the Philadelphia Romanian Church in Lawrenceville — six troubled mortgages in all. What brought them, and eventually thousands of others, to the Georgia World Congress Center on Friday was the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America’s five-day “Save the Dream” tour. The event provides free same-day mortgage modifications for many who attend.

“This is a mobile mortgage servicing operation,” said Bruce Marks, chief executive of the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. “We’re basically doing what the banks should be doing.”

Marks’ nonprofit firm, based in Boston, has taken the “Save the Dream” tour to Washington, Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago; St. Louis, and is heading to Phoenix. The program is funded through a federal grant intended to help homeowners who live in the home they are trying to save.

Marks and more than 500 Neighborhood Assistance staff members and volunteers have set up more than 300 stations in Building A of the GWCC, where people can have individual counseling sessions.

The counselors ask detailed questions about the homeowner’s finances and ability to pay a mortgage. From that assessment, the counselor makes a recommendation to the bank. Neighborhood Assistance Corp. has legal agreements from the country’s largest mortgage holders that requires them, in most cases, to restructure the mortgage based on that recommendation. If the request is denied, the lender must identify the property’s investors and turn over contact information, Marks said.

Marks calls the approach “nonviolent bank terrorism,” saying the same-day event “really gets in the face of lenders and puts pressure on them to make a decision.”

The program focuses on making mortgages affordable for the life of the loan, not just temporarily, he said.

Stefan Lazarean, a self-employed construction worker with seven kids and mounting bills, had an adjustable-rate mortgage he couldn’t afford before the rate adjusted. He didn’t get the answer he wanted Friday, but he is hopeful it will come.

“They said I will be notified by mail,” he said. “I mean, I had nothing before I came, so to get this far was certainly worth it.”

The Corduneanus also had an adjustable-rate mortgage. Daniel Corduneanu, a self-employed construction worker like his brother-in-law, is finding less than 25 percent of the work he used to, but still has 100 percent of the family’s bills. His wife stays home and takes care of their two children, ages 3 and 4, and his parents live with them.

The Corduneanus did get their mortgage adjusted. The adjustable rate is gone, replaced by a 30-year fixed mortgage, and their monthly payment, which was more than $1,000, falls to $575.

Living in Hoschton, the Corduneanus didn’t have to drive nearly as far as Marty Smith, who journeyed from St. Louis to ensure his mortgage was affordable.

Smith attended the last day of the St. Louis tour and by the time he got to a counselor, it was 10 minutes to midnight. The on-site bank representatives were long gone, but the counselor worked with him anyway. He completed the financial analysis and was told he could submit the file online and wait several weeks for a reply, or drive to Atlanta the following weekend and hope his lender was there.

“I guess it is obvious what I chose to do,” said Smith, who was grinning from ear to ear. “I had a nearly $2,000 mortgage with a 9.75 adjustable rate, that didn’t include tax and insurance, and now I’ve got a $1,200 note, which includes taxes and insurance. It was sure worth the drive to Atlanta!”