Priest becomes savior in foreclosure crisis

PACOIMA, California (CNN) — Father John Lasseigne has never owned a home, but he’s become one of the key saviors for those who face losing their house. As banks move in to take over homes in foreclosure, this priest is stepping in to stop them.

Juana Rodriguez and other residents of Pacoima, California, have begun rallying to try to save their homes.

“When I first arrived in the church, at the end of Mass, a family came to speak with me and said, ‘Father, would you pray for us? We are about to lose our home,’ ” Lasseigne said. “Suddenly, the crisis became very real and personal for me.”

Lasseigne is the priest of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in the Southern California community of Pacoima, where one in every nine homes is in some stage of foreclosure. He says the people in this community were targeted by predatory lenders and given loans they never should have qualified for.

“Many of them were lured into taking out mortgages that had very small interest payments in the beginning, which then ballooned into much larger payments later,” he said.

Lasseigne began to preach to his congregation about the power of community organization. He teamed up with the One LA community group, and together they started teaching Foreclosure 101 to his flock.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of families in my immediate neighborhood at risk of losing their homes,” he said.

Scores of families descended on a local high school for a recent community meeting to discuss the foreclosure crisis. Local politicians, as well as lenders, were present at the event, which began with a teenage girl praying for help to “stop foreclosures, which put us and so many other kids at risk of losing our homes.”

Luis Dimas stood with his family and told the crowd he has been trying to negotiate a long-term loan modification for months. “Our payments went from $2,800 a month to $4,800 a month — and the American dream turned into a nightmare.”

These stories were repeated time and again from people like Juana Rodriguez, who has a high-interest subprime loan, and Juan Carlos Jacobo, whose home is about to be sold off to the bank.

Jacobo says it’s important for lenders to witness standing-room-only community events. “They see we’re not alone, that we are fighting for our homes,” he said.

“We all know that these are uncertain times for hundreds of people gathered here today who are threatened with the loss of their homes,” said Yvonne Mariajimenez, an attorney with the nonprofit Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. “Hundreds more work for wages that do not provide a family income.”