City leaders discuss how to increase mortgage refinance deals

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Jack Wilson has tried to refinance his home loan, but so far he's had no luck. A big bank rep told him this: "'Unfortunately that isn't going to be beneficial for me to do a refinance,'" he says, "and the smaller lender here, locally, has pretty much brushed me off."

Financially, it makes sense for Wilson to walk away.

"It's very difficult," he says. "I have thought about doing strategic default and just relinquishing my property as its just not a good investment any more for me because I'm so underwater. However, my own personal beliefs are that I can't default on my mortgage. I must continue to pay."

But not everyone is as socially conscious. Not everyone can pay. There are still thousands of homes falling into foreclosure in Mecklenburg County every year, and many experts believe the only way to fix that is to allow more people to refinance. That, though, is still hard to do, despite historically low interest rates.

On Wednesday, City Council member David Howard officiated a roundtable with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, bank representatives and homeowners to talk about what it would take to get more refinancing deals done.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo reps said unemployment is still a big deterrent. But they also said if more homeowners got pro-active about programs and counseling, banks could do more for them.

"There is help out there. You have to seek it out, but there are good people willing to help you," says Melissa Mann.

When she and her husband, Tony, both lost their jobs, they knew they needed assistance, and they actively sought it.

"It was like the weight of the world being lifted from your shoulders," Melissa says.

The stats are impressive - 90% of those who receive HUD-certified counseling still owned their home 18 months later, because they learned skills that make them more attractive to banks.

But there's another statistic out there that's not so encouraging. So far this year, there have been 4500 foreclosures in Mecklenburg County...where there are only 20 HUD-certified counselors.

"We need to show the powers that be that we need to have more funding so that we can hire more homeownership counselors to assist," says HUD-certified counselor Ralphine Caldwell.

HUD Regional Administrator Ed Jennings plays an important part with the powers that be. And he says we already have those funds through the National Foreclosure Settlement.

"That's how you make it happen," Jennings says. "You make sure that money goes to the purpose of the settlement. That money is right here. That's not before congress. That's not in Washington. It's right here in Raleigh."