Acorn members stage a call-in at the home of Zachary Lareche. The Brooklyn homeowner has been in foreclosure since 2007.
NEW YORK, NY August 22, 2009 —The housing group ACORN is trying to pressure lenders to more aggressively modify the loans of families facing foreclosure. They’ve been picketing financial institutions. And recently they held a call-in in on behalf of a Brooklyn man whose family is about to lose their home. WNYC’s Cindy Rodriguez was there:
REPORTER: About 20 people are standing in a nicely gardened front yard on a quiet tree lined block in Brooklyn. They’re holding cell phones to their ears.
And they’re calling Litton Loan Servicing on behalf of homeowner Zachary Lereche. Litton holds Lareche’s mortgage. Most of them get through to someone and others get put on hold:
REPORTER: The two story, attached brick house is in Flatbush. Lareche says he purchased it in 2001.
LARECHE: I paid $192,000 for it.
REPORTER: At the time, his mortgage payments were $1200 a month and five years later they jumped to over $3,000. Getting laid off from his job made his situation worse and by 2007, he says Litton Loan Servicing, based in Houston Texas, was threatening to auction his home. Lareche says the company wanted the loan paid in full and refused to negotiate even after he got his local elected officials to advocate for him.
LARECHE: I went to Congresswoman Yvette Clark, she tried for me. She send in the application. Didn’t respond. I went to Senator John Sampson. He try many times. Didn’t respond.
REPORTER: There’s an incentive for Litton to help Lareche. The Making Home Affordable Program is federally funded. It’s voluntary and it offers loan servicers 1,000 up front for each loan they agree to modify. Plus they can get an extra 3,000 over three years if a borrower sticks with the modification plan that long. The banks and loan servicers that have signed up for it hold about 2.7 million loans that are 60 days or more past due. As of August about 235,000 or less than 10 percent have been modified. The housing group ACORN says that’s not good enough and that’s why they staged the call-in. Organizer Mirielle Troy says lenders need to be willing to reduce the size of loans and take a hit.
TROY: I’m losing, you need to lose too. Simple as that. All of us are hurting. In order for us to fix this, we are all going to have to step up to the plate and fix it together.
REPORTER: While they couldn’t comment on Lareche’s particular case, a spokeswoman for Litton says the company has received 65,000 modification requests and it’s agreed to 38,000 of them. But the company would not say how many total past due loans it has.
REPORTER: In New York City, getting a bank to modify a loan is more challenging. Tomasz Piskorski is Assistant Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School. He along with a few other academics wrote and presented a loan modification policy plan to congress:
PISKORSKI: Places like Florida, places like California, which experienced a very high house price appreciation, followed by a very big house price decline. These areas are the prime candidates for wide scale modification. New York, which didn’t experience that much decline in house prices, is not.
REPORTER: Plus Piskorski considers borrowers who put little or no money down and who ultimately got loans they couldn’t afford as irresponsible. He says helping them would set a bad precedent.
REPORTER: At Lareche’s house, a Litton Customer Service rep has tallied up his income and expenses, informed him about the documents he’ll need and eventually tells him he’s contacting foreclosure attorneys to postpone the sale of his home.
CUSTOMER SERVICE REP/LARECHE: We’re going to notify the foreclosure attorneys and advise them to postpone the sale and I’m showing that date is scheduled for January the 7th, 2010. Ok.
REPORTER: He’s told he’ll know in 90 days whether the loan will be modified. In July, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan sent out letters to banks and loan servicers asking them to ramp things up. The government wants half a million loans to be modified by November. And Lareche hopes he’s one of them. For WNYC, I’m Cindy Rodriguez