ANIBAL ORTIZ / Bull
Shattering perception, he walks into a room filled with bank and community leaders. His white collar highlights his all-black clerical clothing. As he sits down, the meeting begins.
Hard-hit in the housing crisis, Los Angeles County District 7, which includes the city of Pacoima, has attracted a diverse group of would-be saviors who are attempting to work together to keep homeowners from losing their property through a multi-pronged series of initiatives that address different needs.
Rev. John Lasseigne, a second-year pastor at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, has helped persuade, motivate and encourage not only district leaders but also homeowners that have been affected by the economic downfall.
Behind his priestly garments Lasseigne stores a distinctive knowledge about property laws and mortgages. In 1998 he became a licensed lawyer in Texas. He has become one of the key fighters against foreclosures in Pacoima’s predominantly Hispanic community.
Mary Immaculate is one of four churches in the Valley that have joined the non-partisan, non-profit organization known as One LA-IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation.)
The combined efforts of One LA-IAF, councilmember Richard Alarcón, Lasseigne, and countless others has helped launch the City of Los Angeles Foreclosure Prevention Demonstration Project, a $1 million city-funded pilot project designed to help struggling homeowners that have not been eligible for President Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program.
At first, Lasseigne heard very little about the foreclosures in his area, but over time he learned that the problem was much larger than he anticipated.
Lasseigne sat down and spoke to Tom Holler, an organizer for One LA-IAF. Feeding him facts, figures and examples of the foreclosure problem in Council District 7, Holler was able to convince Lasseigne to join the campaign.
“I was getting a few families, one family in particular came and spoke to me, but it wasn’t anything like what Tom was telling me,” said Lasseigne. “He was telling me it was hundreds or thousands of families in this district.”
Over the next four weeks Mary Immaculate Parish was able to acquire 300 names.
“We’ve received request for help from homeowners throughout the Valley and even beyond the Valley, but it is true that we try to focus our efforts in that of Council District 7,” said Lasseigne.
The pilot project that Alarcón helped launch in September is designed to help an estimated 25 to 35 homeowners stay on their property by helping with their mortgage payments.
“Through his efforts we got one million dollars to launch a pilot project to put our plan into practice,” said Lasseigne. “One million dollars sounds like a lot but it really isn’t when you are talking about homes in the valley.”
Jose Hernandez signed up for help through the program in December 2008 when his family realized that they needed help with their payments.
“We’re still going through negotiations,” said Hernandez. “The feeling of not knowing who to turn to can be devastating.”
“Most people waited until the last minute,” said Lasseigne. “People were either embarrassed or they didn’t think the church would be of any help to them.”
“Despite our combined efforts we have not been able to help every homeowner in the original group,” said Lasseigne.
Although nobody has been helped by the pilot project yet, Lasseigne talked about what the combined efforts within One LA has done for the community. So far, Lasseigne claims that the campaign has been ‘moderately successful’ for those who have signed up from the start.
For those who can still make payments but not the full monthly total of their original contracts, the group has advised them on legal help to obtain mortgage modifications, allowing them to renegotiate their monthly payments so that they might stay in their homes.
“There are those that we have already been able to help get a mortgage modification,” said Lasseigne. “Something that they can live with.”
“We have at least been able to hold off the foreclosure preceding,” said Lasseigne. “Some families have been able to find a new source of income.”
Jose Gomez, a father of five, was one parishioner that took advantage of the group’s helping hands.
Gomez and an estimated 70 parishioners from Mary Immaculate joined thousands of others in an effort to help persuade district leaders during a Los Angeles meeting that took place in June.
At the time, Gomez was paying over $3,200 monthly with an interest rate of 11 percent. After working with One LA, Gomez was able to modify his interest rate to 5 percent with monthly payments of $2,100 per month over a span of five years.
During the early stages of their campaign, One LA and its affiliates, such as the lawyers at Neighborhood Legal Services, strived to help struggling home owners modify their loans and payments.
“Sometimes we can’t talk to the right people,” said Gomez. “One LA can contact them directly.”
According to Lasseigne, none of the people that have joined the program have been foreclosed upon, but warns that some may be very close.
“The lawyers have had to make calls on the spur of the moment in order to intervene,” said Lasseigne. “It’s like running a race and you have to run really far, really fast.”
While intervening may be fast paced, the modification process takes more time.
“It’s a slow process,” said Juan Carlos Jacobo. “It requires patience.”
Modifying Jacobo’s payments was a 7-month process.
“The pilot project will help these 25 or 35 home owners in a more permanent way because that $1 million is going to help give, basically grants,” explained Lasseigne. “It’s going to be a loan to the home owner, but then the homeowner will give that money to the bank just as a payment on the principle of the mortgage.”
The next step in their campaign would be to convince banks to agree with their conditions at a five percent fixed rate for the remainder of the time.
“Banks have not accepted the process,” said Alarcón.
Among the banks that have rejected the process are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and Indy Mac.
“In reality some of these banks realize that our plan will actually help them make more money off of this new plan than if they foreclosed,” said Lasseigne.
Now it’s just a matter of winning that race.