07/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Homeowners "March" Against Foreclosure

NACA's 5 Day DC Event Offers Help, And A Way Forward
WASHINGTON JULY 20: Forty-five years ago this summer I spent a day Marching on Washington. Everyone remembers it as just four words of the many uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King: "I have a dream." After that march for justice (and jobs), the organizers led by Bayard Rustin returned to the Statler Hilton Hotel, now the Capital Hilton, which was the event's headquarters. Dr. King was there, and Malcolm X even dropped by for a press conference of his own to warn that non-violence was unlikely to lead to change.

It was August 28, l963, a day which is still memorialized in the hotel's lobby. I was a civil rights worker then, and a small fry organizer of that historic mobilization. That night, I crashed in a hotel room rented for SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

Within five years, violence would claim the lives of both Malcolm and Martin, and today, Dr. King's children are, sadly, suing each other in part over how best to monetize his legacy.

Today, I am back in that very same hotel, although the name Hilton is better known now for the antics of Baron Hilton's granddaughter Paris. Over this past weekend, the hotel, just a few blocks from the White House, was once again playing host to a human rights battle, this time the fight against foreclosures.

America's largest and most militant homeownership organization, NACA, The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation hired out the grand hotel for five days, and brought 460 staffers from 38 offices to Washington for a five day event to demonstrate that their approach to stopping foreclosures is superior to everything that is being done elsewhere or proposed in Congress. They reference "the dream" too, 45 years ago activists wanted to claim it. Today they fight to save it.

NACA believes that making mortgages affordable is the only way to stabilize at-risk homeowners. They call on banks to restructure mortgages, lower interest rates and replace adjustable mortgages and ARMS with low fixed rates for the long term.

To make its point, and serve the community, NACA publicized an offer of free counseling and advice for homeowners that included creating modified and restructured loan proposals and aggressively persuading lenders to accept them.

A solicitation was made in radio ads and through direct mail. People with mortgage problems were advised to make appointments on the website and bring their mortgage documents with them. The event was a big and audacious gamble by NACA's feisty CEO Bruce Marks.

Something amazing happened. Some homeowners started arriving at 6:30 AM. Soon lines stretched around the block. It was a march of the We Don't Want To Be Homeless, "wearing their troubles on their faces," as one NACA staffer later observed. A million families face foreclosure this year and many are trying to do something before their lives go on the auction block. The statistics are hard to wrap your head around; a parade of real people can't be ignored.

By day's end, thousands of homeowners had trekked through the NACA process which included an orientation, the scanning of their documents into the organization's proprietary mortgage software and then one on one counseling in a ballroom which had been transformed into a vast arena of small tables, each with a HUD certified counselor and a computer. The counselors help the homeowners assess the affordability of their mortgages and the prospects of their losing their homes. They then draft sustainable budgets and a plan.

With personal financial data in place, backed by bank statements, mortgage paper and pay stubs, they proposed affordable "solutions" to mortgage servicers and banks. These call for cutting interest rates and restructuring the mortgages at fixed rate for 30 years. NACA negotiators emailed the proposals to the finance companies and then advocated for their new members.

Soon, emails started coming back from lenders with letters accepting some of the proposals. I spoke to some ectstatic homeowners who were leaving after a frustrating day of waiting for new deal that would allow them to save money and their homes.

Officials from some banks and agencies dropped by and marveled over this well organized, business like and passionate first of a kind event. It clearly showed the enormity of the foreclosure crisis and the anger among so many homeowners who feel victimized by the subprime ponzi scheme. It also showed that there is a solution within reach if lenders are willing to compromise. NACA may take it on the road.

These people--old and young, some with children, others in wheel chairs. came from as far away as Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. They were dignified and quiet, perhaps also frightened. Many told me they have had trouble sleeping because of worries about whether they could keep their families together.

The event did rate some press attention, but, as is often the case, drug related murders they night before were, predictably, of more interest to most local TV outlets. The CBS Evening News and Fox News showed up. (Afterwards, the Fox cameraman told me he was coming back with his own mortgage documents.)

A Washington Post columnist had praised the event the day before it happened, writing, "The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America is doing something that should have been done a long time ago.

Homeowners won't have to wait weeks for a callback from their loan servicers. They won't have to fret and fuss -- and in some cases cuss -- to get a mortgage servicing company to listen to their pleas to save their homes from foreclosure."

But when the event unfolded, exceeding organizer's expectations, the Post did not bother to send a reporter. The newspaper is right next door to the hotel. Only z few of the media outlets contacted bothered to show up.

Early next week, NACA will encourage its homeowners to descend on Congress to "encourage" their Senators and Representatives to press bankers to restructure constituent's loans. While congress debates bailouts, NACA saves homes.

Early next week, NACA will encourage its homeowners to descend on Congress to "encourage" their Senators and They may be more successful with bankers who know that getting some payment is better than none, than with posturing members of Congress who seem paralyzed when it comes to helping people in need.

Last week, Bill Moyers featured journalist William Greider who discussed, as Graig Gingold reports, "the abject failure of the politicians in DC to do what was called for to protect the public from the predatory lenders."

He cites as evidence a headline from the Washington Post: "Figures in Both Campaigns Have Deep Ties to Mortgage Giants"

The battle lines are being joined, NACA, a modern day David is taking on the mortgage Goliath---and, so far, making progress Hopefully the bloggers, gathered in their own convention in Austin Texas, and other activists, will take notice and realize there is more to politics than electoral contests.

News Dissector Danny Schechter made the film In Debt We Trust and has just finished a new book investigating the crisis, Plunder to be published by Cosimo. Comments to