Remarks to the Ga. Consortium for Personal Financial Literacy on the HOPE campaignviernes, 30 de noviembre de 2007

Good afternoon, everyone.

It has been 10 months, almost to the day, since our Atlanta HOPE foreclosure prevention campaign was launched, so I was very pleased when Nancy asked me to provide you an update on our results, as well as to comment on the challenges that lie ahead.

It turns out that the timing of our campaign’s launch at the end of January was very fortuitous.

While foreclosures were rising then, they certainly had not reached anywhere near the level that we are experiencing today. It fact, in seems to me that the national and local news media report almost daily on some new aspect of fallout from the current mortgage crisis.

As a starting point, I think it is important for us all to realize these problems will be with us for a while. On Nov. 15, the president of Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, said the current real estate conditions are the worst he has experienced during his 30-year career.

His quote said it all: "We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression.”

That’s why the HOPE foreclosure prevention campaign was launched and why it is so important.

As background, the HOPE campaign consists of the toll-free 1.888.995.HOPE hotline sponsored by the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, staffed by CCCS Atlanta and 5 other national credit counseling organizations and supplemented by face-to-face counseling provided by local housing counseling agencies. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by counselors, who provide free, confidential advice. Services are available in both English and Spanish.

CCCS of Greater Atlanta agreed to join the Homeownership Preservation Foundation counseling team several years ago because of what we saw as a growing national problem. To put that in perspective---two years ago, we had only four housing counselors dedicated to foreclosure prevention. Today, as we work to help homeowners across our nation, we now have more than 60 full-time housing counselors, 80% of whom are focused on helping consumers with serious mortgage delinquencies.

Some of you may remember that when we launched the HOPE partnership in January we had a goal of generating a minimum of 5,000 calls from Atlanta residents and conducting 2,000 counseling sessions over twelve months.

We exceeded one of these annual goals by the end of the first quarter and nearly reached the other, attracting 6,315 calls and providing in depth counseling to 1,520 homeowners.

By June 30, the hotline had received 8,205 calls from Georgia homeowners and 2,206 homeowners had received counseling.

Through October, we received more than 13,000 telephone calls from area residents and have provided counseling to approximately 3,830 people seeking to avoid foreclosure – up from only 680 such counseling sessions in all of 2006.

So how were we successful in reaching these distressed borrowers?

Well, we knew from previous research that while foreclosure rates were high throughout metro Atlanta, the communities hardest hit between 2000 and 2005 were located along the east-west I-20 corridor, in the southern part of Fulton County, and the southeastern portion of DeKalb County.

We met with representatives from Chicago’s Home Ownership Preservation Initiative, who had recently implemented a similar campaign. Their program gave us insight into the communication channels and messages that generated the most homeowner response.

We also looked at our own CCCS caller profile data to further define the homeowner audience we most needed to reach.

Our marketing approach had two goals: Number 1---Focus on reaching homeowners in the neighborhoods at dire risk and ---Number 2 ---Create a general awareness throughout the metro area of the availability of free help.

After studying the demographics of the communities we decided to target, we focused specifically on African American female homeowners ages 25-54. A marketing campaign was created to reach these women in several ways: at home, when commuting by car, at retailers, and through church and friends.

A great example of reaching our audience in a unique way came through an outreach event we called “Salon Talk.”

Our research indicated that many African American women get their hair done weekly and develop close relationships with their stylists. So, on March 28, we held events at six salons where the HOPE hotline was promoted with salon owners, hair stylists and their customers. Educational material was distributed and salon patrons were encouraged to become ambassadors for our message of HOPE with their friends and colleagues.

We knew that creating partnerships with key officials in local governments was also critical to the campaign. As planning began about a year ago, we established partnerships with leaders of the target communities, including Mayor Shirley Franklin and her cabinet, Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders, DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones and Fulton County Chair John Eaves.

By establishing these relationships, we leveraged distribution channels such as city water bills and secured the use of the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County logos on campaign materials. Several of these officials also made important media appearances for the campaign.--

Finally, we negotiated partnerships with the two leading radio station groups for African American audiences in Atlanta---CBS Radio and Radio One. These partnerships included a mix of paid advertising and public service messages recorded by Steve Harvey and Al Sharpton.

I am pleased to report that Jackson Spalding, the public relations firm hired for the project, won the top awards in two categories from the Public Relations Society of America’s Georgia chapter for its work promoting the HOPE hotline.

That brings us to the present.

The HOPE campaign is still alive, well and entering a new phase. Earlier today, CCCS co-hosted an event at the Commerce Club downtown to publicize our latest initiative.

U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral was here to discuss the HOPE NOW alliance, which is a national effort of counseling agencies, mortgage servicers and the Treasury Department to reach out and help as many homeowners as possible.

As the first step, letters are going out as we speak from the HOPE NOW coalition to hundreds of thousands of homeowners, asking them to call their lenders. These borrowers have been identified by as people who are delinquent on their mortgage payments and are at high risk of foreclosure. The letters encourage homeowners to call their servicers to discuss options for resolving their delinquency problems.

Beginning in December similar letters will be going out from all major servicers promoting the HOPE hotline.

Ken Wade, CEO of NeighborWorks America also announced today a new series of public service television, radio and print ads developed by the National Ad Council and aimed at getting financially distressed homeowners to reach out for assistance as soon as they experience trouble paying their mortgage. I hope that you will soon be seeing these ads in the Atlanta area.

Research has shown that the sooner that families experiencing financial problems get counseling the better chance they have of avoiding foreclosure. Unfortunately, many families are too embarrassed by their situation to take action. In fact, more than half of all people who lose their homes to foreclosure never tried to get help. They just let the foreclosure happen.

The new national public service advertising campaign, which encourages homeowners to call the 1.888.995.HOPE hotline, spreads the message that “nothing is worse than doing nothing.”