Group tries to help homeowners left out in the cold

Hundreds of people flocked to the former Charlotte Merchandise Mart Thursday to try to save their homes.

They came from as far away as California, lining up for hours in the pre-dawn cold for a chance to restructure their mortgages.

Their stories are all too familiar in post-recession America: interest rates on adjustable mortgages soaring, lifelong workers who can't find jobs, retirees who can't keep up with payments on a fixed income.

And their pleas to lenders are familiar now too: Give me a little more time — I can get on my feet. Please don't take my home.

"I've been in knots over this," said Katherine Falen, a 41-year-old single mother who drove from Atlanta to the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's mortgage-modification program at The Park on Independence Boulevard.

The group acts as a middleman between lenders and homeowners, and is offering on-site assistance to homeowners through Monday. About 350 NACA counselors were on hand Thursday, as well as lender representatives from the banks. Vendors sold funnel cake, hotdogs, $3 bottles of water and barbeque to the huge crowd. A peppy announcer called to a podium those who got their loans modified to give "testimony" and receive huge rounds of applause from the waiting hopefuls.

Falen, who works for the state of Georgia, bought her house in 2006. It was her first, and she expected to raise her 6-year-old son there. Her house was supposed to be "a place to call home for the rest of our lives."

But Falen was furloughed from work and has had tap her savings. She's had trouble keeping up and fears she'll be furloughed again.

"You believe that you're going to progress in your life, and to have this setback was devastating," she said. "You expect to get raises, not pay cuts."

Adrian Segers was a systems analyst at Wachovia making almost $70,000 a year at Wachovia until he was laid off in 2008. He's tried to get other jobs in his field with no success; he says he'll take work as a security guard or a janitor if he can find it.

Segers, who also volunteers for NACA, started missing payments on his University City home. He could barely buy groceries and pay utilities with his unemployment check.

"I'd never been late on a payment," said Segers, 28. But he said Bank of America, his lender, wouldn't give him a break, and he's in danger of losing the house. So he came to the mortgage fair to make a simple plea for a forbearance: "Three months. Give me a chance to get back on my feet. I can find work."

The group says it has helped more than 100,000 people modify loans so far in 11 previous cities on its "Save the Dream Tour."