Thousands of Southland homeowners try to get their mortgage payments adjusted

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An American family speaks with a bank consultant to restructure their mortgage at the nation's largest loan modification event, which is part of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's (NACA) 'Save the Dream' tour at the Los Angeles Convention Center, on September 30, 2010. The five-day event, where homeowners can restructure their mortgages to avoid foreclosure, brings together struggling homeowners and major banks.

From now through Monday, thousands of homeowners will pour into the Los Angeles Convention Center in a last ditch effort to avoid the dreaded “F” word... foreclosure. They met with lenders they hoped would slash their mortgage payments.

Devaughn Johnson reminds you of the guy whose job it is to warm up an eager audience before a live TV show. With beads of sweat on his face, he runs from one group of homeowners to the next, making sure they’re prepared and motivated before they meet with lenders to try and lower their mortgage payments.

“Review your bank statements," Johnson yells to a crowd. "Look over the documentation. Be prepared for the table. Is everybody with me? Alright, get acquainted! Get acquainted!"

Johnson and dozens of other organizers wear bright yellow T-shirts with what looks like the creature from “Jaws” on the front. There’s bold red print that reads “Stop Loan Sharks.”

Workers at this event are guiding Southland homeowners through a long, potentially rewarding path to saving their homes.

Event planner Carmen Orta said lending institutions like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Suntrust are on hand to work with borrowers.

“We have legal binding contracts with these banks so they have to do everything within their power. Whether they have to lower that interest rate, lower their principal, maybe a principal forbearance or both. They’re gonna do what they have to do to get to that affordable payment.”

Stacie Ashley-Williams is banking on that. The wife and mother of three small children lives in Cerritos. She owes $180,000 on a home that’s worth less than that now. While she loves living there, Ashley-Williams admits that it’s been hard to keep up with the mortgage payments the last couple of years. She sits in the back row of the waiting section at the LA Convention Center, holding onto a blanket - and onto hope that someone will agree to modify her home loan.

“We have a loan that has a limit in terms of how much it can adjust each year," said Ashley-Williams. "So we’re a little but lucky there because otherwise it would’ve adjusted to about $3,700 a month payment. And right now we’re right at about $2,700. So as the years go, the payment is continuing to go up.”

Last year at least 20,000 people attended this mortgage modification event. Organizers expect higher numbers this year. Throughout this weekend, they’re working around the clock to help as many people as they can.

Erica Williams of Long Beach can’t stop beaming as she emerges from a sea of bank reps in red t-shirts and plucking away at their lap tops. Williams is a few small steps away from getting Bank of America to approve a loan modification on the Craftsman Cottage she’s lived in for seven years.

“Mortgage payments are about $3,000 a month along with an equity line of about $500 a month so we’re trying to get that down to at least a mortgage payment of between $1,600 to $2,000 or consolidate both of them and come up with about $2,000 a month. We’ll be happy with that.”

The non-profit “Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America” sponsors events like this in LA and other cities across the country.

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