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Bread Lines and Foreclosed Houses

I made it to the Hilton, for the event here I wrote about earlier held by NACA, a housing advocacy group, to help people stave off foreclosures. I figured it might be pretty busy, given the housing crisis and the credit squeeze.

But I’m totally shocked.

Outside the Capital Hilton a line of nearly 400 people stretches down the entire block, snakes around it and lines another block. It’s hot outside, brutally hot, and people are sweating as they clutch manila envelopes full of loan papers. NACA staff members, in yellow t-shirts, stroll up and down the lines yelling “water!” and handing out bottles from coolers. There are entire families here, with toddlers in strollers, and moms trying to fan them to keep them cool. Every now and then, a NACA staffer comes out and lets a dozen or so people in.

But that long line in the heat is just the line to get in the door. Once you’re in, there’s another long line to fill out paperwork, then a crowded room for an orientation to describe NACA and the way the loan modifications work. NACA staffers and volunteers line both sides of an upstairs hallway to process paperwork. Then there’s another line to get in to a huge banquet room where counselors work with homeowners to restructure the loans. It’s like going to attend a ceremony or a wedding, only all the round tables with white tablecloths are filled with anxious people and paperwork. Oh, and the line to get to the table for the restructuring goes twice around the room.

William Whitehouse, a NACA counselor, tells me things were slow here Monday, then a flood of people showed up at 6 p.m. and things went on until midnight. Today, word must be out, and the lines have been long all day.

If you’ve ever been to the FDR Memorial, there’s a sculpture of poor and hungry people in a bread line during the Great Depression. This is like a high-tech, modern version of it, with computers, and counselors, and a mother nursing her infant on the carpeted steps while she waits her turn with a counselor.

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