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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles on February 3, Carmel Sella, Vice President Community Development, Wells Fargo Bank.
EOH: Could you talk about your Neighborhood Lift Program and what you expect to come out of it?
CS: Neighborhood Lift is a community development response to our nation’s housing crisis. Housing impacts all of our lives and Neighborhood Lift has several important components that are being launched today. The first is a $10.5 billion mortgage lending commitment in the city of Los Angeles over 5 years. In addition, Wells Fargo is investing $15 million in down-payment assistance and program support to help people become homeowners. We are also continuing our ongoing strong commitment to foreclosure prevention and keeping people in their homes.
EOH: Can you talk a little about the “forgiveness” part of Wells Fargo’s program?
CS: We work hard at Wells Fargo to keep families in their homes, whether contacting them through the foreclosure, through the loan modification process, and working hard through a single point of contact. We do everything we can to make it possible for people to stay in their homes if they are able. Today at the Los Angeles Convention Center we are launching Neighborhood Lift, a new step in our overall commitment to homeowners. Borrowers attending the event will be able to take advantage of home buyer education, counseling by home mortgage consultants, and meeting with our partner, Neighbor Works Affiliate. Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services will have counselors available to meet with first time home buyers to educate them and become partners in the home buying process.
We are at capacity, which is very exciting and it shows that there is much interest in people wanting to make a commitment to our communities in Los Angeles. People can look at the website and become familiar with properties that are going to be highlighted. We are adding a home buying tour and a lot of different and innovative tools to allow homebuyers to become experts in the process.
EOH: This is a pilot program, correct?
CS: Yes. It is being piloted here in Los Angeles and in Atlanta. We wanted to go coast to coast and take advantage of the different experiences that might be present on the east coast as compared to the west coast. We are going to take what we learn, look at it, see what are our successes, where can we improve, and go from there. We chose Los Angeles and Atlanta because we felt that they are the ingredients for success. We have great partners and a lot of interest here.
EOH: How do you keep someone in a home?
CS: We work diligently with each individual homeowner facing challenges. We changed our process so that homeowner has a single point of contact, so they don’t have to start from scratch every time they contact the bank. We study sustainable homeownership so a solution we develop can be sustained by the family. It’s good for the family and us.
EOH: What do you think about the Presidents program?
CS: I think the President’s plan shows that all of us are working on solutions, and at Wells Fargo we have used the tools we have to help people stay in their homes. We have had 600 home preservation workshops throughout the country where people can come in and talk with a counselor and work on a solution. Nationwide we have had 50 home preservation workshops sponsored by Wells Fargo exclusively. The President’s plan is exciting and shows ongoing commitment and recognition of the importance of housing.
EOH: What has generally been the feed-back from participants in the workshops?
CS: We’re hearing they are grateful for the opportunity to have contact and the ability to work on solutions. People talk about the dignity of those types of workshops and being able to sit down and work on solutions. We’ve gotten very positive feedback and questions on the next step. Neighborhood Lift was motivated by recognizing and crafting the next step; to bring stability to communities in Los Angeles and Atlanta hardest hit by foreclosures
EOH: Can you talk about the human toll?
CS: That’s why we try to make it as respectful and dignified a process as possible. We recognize that home is a foundation for the family and community.
EOH: Is the Atlanta event being held in tandem or separate from the one in Los Angeles?
CS: That’s taking place later in February and Wells Fargo is investing $8 million in that community.
EOH: Are more people in danger of losing their homes? Where do things stand at this point?
CS: Overall the trends have looked more positive, which is why this is a great time to take that next step. We are looking forward to using new tools, and working to keep people in their homes. In the media there have been some encouraging signs, but until we are able to see long term trends, it’s hard to make that assessment. Wells Fargo made a commitment to have responsible lending practices which is why our foreclosure rate has been lower than industry average and why we focus on doing the right thing for the customer and the community.
Working with the community is important to us. We donate $213 million throughout the country and today’s initiative, the Neighborhood Lift, both here on Los Angeles and in Atlanta, provides support and down-payment assistance for eligible home purchasers, and gives them extra help to enable them to become homeowners.
EOH: What is the final thought you want to leave us with?
CS: We are excited about the program and look forward to seeing results and building a partnership and relationship with the community and being part of the solution to our nation’s housing crisis.