Controversial Activist Nonprofit Fighting Foreclosures Ventures into Nation’s Banking Hotbed—Charlotte, NC

December 1, 2011; Source: WSOC-TVEven after Wells Fargo’s acquisition of Wachovia, Charlotte, NC may still be the nation’s second largest banking hub, anchored by the national headquarters of the Bank of America. So it is no surprise that two television stations’ reports on the “Save the Dream” event sponsored by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America sounded a little less than enthusiastic. The event attracted more than 500 people to the Charlotte Convention Center to meet with NACA financial advisors in the hope that they could find ways of restructuring their mortgages—including people who began lining up at 5 a.m. for the 8 a.m. start on Thursday morning. NACA says it will help thousands of people this week in Charlotte.

WSOC’s report mentioned that NACA’s Charlotte office had been cited in 2010 for dumping “sensitive documents” in the trash containing clients’ Social Security numbers and bank account numbers. NACA founder and CEO Bruce Marks denied that NACA had done anything wrong, but agreed to pay the state a $3,000 fine. NewsChannel 36 reminded its viewers that NACA’s last such event in Charlotte, in 2009, had finished with “mixed reviews,” and cited “about two dozen unresolved complaints nationwide” filed with the Better Business Bureau from people who said that NACA had “promised lower mortgages but [who] didn’t see a dip in their monthly payments.”

A couple of dozen complaints compared to the hundreds of thousands of homeowners that NACA has served over the years seems kind of paltry, especially since homeowners facing delinquency and possible foreclosure are usually panicked, desperate, and sometimes looking for miraculous solutions that don’t necessarily materialize. The two stations might have spent a little time recounting NACA’s track record of successes, but they didn’t. Some of that might be attributable to the distinctively feisty personality of Marks himself, a pugnacious nonprofit leader who WSOC said wouldn’t talk to the station at the time of the 2010 dumpster incident, perhaps leaving the local press feeling a little bruised.

A good debate over some of NACA’s techniques might be edifying. If they are so good, what stops the Obama Administration from simply adopting NACA’s strategy lock, stock, and barrel? Is there something about the advice of NACA financial advisors concerning homeowners’ non-mortgage debts that rubs some people the wrong way? Do people have questions about the deals that NACA cuts and the commitments NACA gets from some banks and not others? Is there a concern about how NACA finances its assistance to homeowners, initially free, eventually paid by the banks? Or the kinds of financing that NACA provides itself tied to homeowners joining NACA as members? One could dig into many interesting questions about NACA’s methods and strategies, but the two Charlotte stations missed the big picture of this quite distinctive nonprofit.—Rick Cohen