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Countrywide Helps ACORN Reach Katrina Homeowners

Countrywide Financial Corp. and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now have launched a joint telephone and door-to-door campaign to locate Hurricane Katrina evacuees and connect them with their lender.

As of now, thousands of displaced Gulf Coast homeowners have not contacted their mortgage lender to discuss postponement of payment options or other possible steps toward financial recovery.

The "Contact Your Mortgage Lender for Assistance Today" program will target Houston as one of several cities with a high presence of hurricane evacuees, and also Dallas, San Antonio, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Homeowners are urged to call a special toll-free hotline.

"Despite our best efforts to reach them, there are still a number of customers who we have been unable to reach, limiting our ability to provide assistance to them," said Countrywide managing director of mortgage servicing, Michael Gross.

The initiative follows a series of newspaper ads Countrywide placed last month in newspapers in the affected communities, the bank said, inviting Countrywide customers to call their lender. In addition, the ACORN Housing Helpline was enlisted as an intermediary between customers of other mortgage companies and their lenders.

Following guidelines established by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD and other entities that own or insure mortgages, lenders can offer postponed payments, repayment plans, loan modifications or loan reinstatement, and other assistance to customers whose homes remain uninhabitable or who are unable to work.

While Countrywide and other mortgage lenders have provided "significant assistance" to customers affected by the storms, including suspending mortgage payments and credit reporting, Mr. Gross noted, "ACORN has the proven ability to organize and mobilize its membership for community outreach."

ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families with over 175,000 member families organized into 800 neighborhood chapters in 80 cities across the country.

"ACORN Housing has been able to assist almost all the Katrina survivors we have worked with in making arrangements with their lender to protect their home and their finances," said Dorothy Stukes, president of the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association, upon the announcement. "We are going to go out in the community to make sure as many people as possible know they need to act now."

The ACORN Housing Hotline assists all homeowners serviced by all lenders and is not limited to Countrywide customers.

Most Countrywide customers affected by the hurricanes have already contacted the lender. As for homeowners who have not contacted their lender so far, more than six months after Katrina, the bank said, "time is of the essence."

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