NationsBank and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America took their $500 million affordable housing program to church this week.
In a Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony, more than 1,000 people packed Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ here to listen to bankers and Neighborhood Assistance Corp. leaders talk up plans to extend home loans to low-income and moderate-income borrowers. Many also filled out loan application forms.
"We've talked to hundreds of people in Washington about the program, and we talk to dozens more every day," said NationsBank senior vice president Vickie B. Tassan. "By the looks of the response today, we may use all of the money up."
The five-year program, launched last month with NationsBank's $500 million commitment, lowers the underwriting standards and costs involved in buying a house. Cities targeted for help are Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C.
Mr. Marks said Neighborhood Assistance Corp., a Boston-based community group, has run a similar program with FleetBank in Boston without a single default.
Representatives of FleetBank and Riggs National Bank, which is negotiating a $30 million partnership with Neighborhood Assistance Corp., joined NationsBank at Monday's gathering.
Those entering the church were welcomed by a tightly packed crowd, hymns, and prayer. They also got yellow application sheets.
The application asked for a borrower's and co-borrower's home address, workplace, and job title. Also, applicants are asked to indicate whether they have ever owned a house before, how many members are in their families, their total household income and savings, their race, their first language, the neighborhoods where they would like to buy, and whether they have ever made an offer on a house.
The applicants, Mr. Marks said, will see low up-front costs in purchasing a house. No down payment is required, and the participating bank pays any closing costs.
In order to get into the program, an applicant must have 12 months of "satisfactory credit," and 12 consecutive months of steady income.
Despite the program's relaxed loan underwriting standards, Ms. Tassan said her institution didn't consider its sizable investment to be a risky one.
"We're very optimistic and confident," she said. "The key is the stabilization fund."
The Neighborhood Stabilization Fund, made up of contributions from borrowers, provides emergency assistance in making loan payments for up to three months for emergencies, like a layoff or unexpected medical expense. Homeowners involved in the program decide who receives help.
Still, Kerwin W. Davis, a community mortgage representative with First National Mortgage Corp., Greenbelt, Md., said the fund may not be as necessary as some think.
"Once the people get into that house, their pride of ownership will kick in," Mr. Davis said. "They'll spend every last dime they have to maintain that ownership."