Freddie Mac is spending $300,000 to expand to 12 cities an anti-predatory-lending campaign started in July in Boston.
In each city coalitions of banks, government agencies, and community groups will receive $25,000 in seed funding from Freddie Mac for advertisements and public service announcements, said Freddie spokesman Brad German.
The "Don't Borrow Trouble" program unveiled by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Massachusetts Community Banking Council quickly garnered the support of the Massachusetts Bankers Association and 70 community banks. Though it is too soon to determine precisely how effective the campaign has been, its organizers can point to several success stories. Freddie Mac says Hyde Park Savings Bank in Boston helped a homeowner by giving him a market-rate mortgage after his previous lender threatened him with foreclosure when he had trouble making a balloon payment. The only assistance the original lender offered was to refinance the loan at a much higher interest rate.
Mr. German said the homeowner, whom he did not name, called a toll-free number mentioned in a "Don't Borrow Trouble" advertisement, and volunteers referred him to a community group with ties to $454 million-asset Hyde Park Savings.
Now, Cleveland, Baltimore, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, Oakland, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Washington, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Syracuse, N.Y. have launched anti-predator drives patterned on Boston's.
New Orleans mayor Marc H. Morial called it "the best new idea I've seen in the fight against abusive lending practices."
Mr. Menino said he was "pleased that Freddie Mac is helping other mayors implement 'Don't Borrow Trouble.' "
In each city the program has advertising, information, and referral-and-counseling components: newspaper and billboard ads, a Web site, and a toll-free phone line respectively.
In Boston, attorneys at the National Consumer Law Center trained many of the program's phone-line volunteers, and the organization has offered to provide similar training in other cities, said Odette Williamson, a spokeswoman for the center.
In Atlanta, where officials say predatory lending is an acute problem, the United Way has helped make that city's toll-free referral line a 24-hour operation.
"Over the past decade, especially the past five years, predatory lenders have targeted low-income, elderly, and minority homeowners with the specific goal of acquiring their homes through foreclosure," said Foster Corbin, executive director of the nonprofit group Metro Fair Housing Services.
"That is the way our folks are being treated by these lenders. In some of the cases, it is unbelievable what they have done."
Atlanta officials said lenders foreclosed on 7,348 houses in the city and surrounding Fulton and DeKalb counties in the 12 months that ended June 30. By contrast, Freddie Mac reported just 2,400 foreclosures in the first six months of 2000 for its entire southeastern region, excluding Atlanta, which starts in Maryland and runs the length of the east coast.
"That's why Atlanta's response has been so enthusiastic," Mr. German said. In addition to Freddie Mac's seed contribution, local groups there have raised $70,000 for "Don't Borrow Trouble."
While more extensive than other campaigns, "Don't Borrow Trouble" is not the first to target predatory lenders. In June 14 Chicago-area community banks kicked off a pilot project offering legal assistance and refinancing help to homeowners facing foreclosure. The banks have committed $14 million toward aid and refinancing.