Steve Neal attended last Saturday’s visioning session for the North Village Center in a T-shirt, shorts and a visor.
“It was Saturday,” the Ninth District City Councilman said.
“I welcomed everyone, then I was just a resident participating like everyone else. Do I have to wear a suit every day? I don’t think so. I’m just a regular guy.”
Neal said he is actively pursuing the perception that he is a regular guy, helping other people solve problems just like his own.
He admits that he really wasn’t looking for the type of help he has had in the direction of published reports of his home being in foreclosure, though. It’s particularly bothersome, he said, when those stories don’t include the fact that he is in the midst of a loan modification.
“We’re regular folks just like thousands of others in this position,” Neal said. “We’re not going to lose our home. The good thing about this (publicity) is that it has gotten some people to help move along the modification. The whole thing has been very frustrating, but at the same time I’ve learned you have to fight it all the way and it can happen.”
A notice of default was filed in June 2010 on Neal’s home. He said the home’s value was far below the mortgage balance, partially because he refinanced the home “two or three times” during the real estate boom, much as others did.
Real estate records show that the mortgage was refinanced five times from September 2004 to June 2007, including two second mortgages (or equity loans) totaling $75,000.
Neal said his involvement in the loan modification process has taught him lessons he wants to pass on to others in his situation.
The keys to success — less than half of those applying for a loan modification have been successful — are having an income and perseverance, he said.
“Unfortunately, many people are in this situation because they have lost their job. That’s another story. You have to have some ability to pay back what you owe.”
Neal said he is attempting to have the bank add what is owed onto the end of his mortgage rather than forgive the principal, thereby avoiding a tax hit now and paying the full amount of his debt later — when, hopefully, the home is worth more.
He cautioned others against paying anyone to help them through the mortgage modification or foreclosure processes, as well.
“A lot of people are being taken advantage of, not just with the original loans, but with the modifications,” he said. “People are preying on these folks. You have to be leery of anyone who says they can help you, but you have to give them money first.”
Neal said there is little the city can do directly to help people in this situation. He urged people contact the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing or Shore Management Solutions in Long Beach.
As important as helping others facing potential foreclosure, Neal said, is to change the perception of North Long Beach as the poor step-child of the rest of the city. Publicity about his own situation has furthered that perception, he admitted.
“This isn’t just happening in the Ninth District,” Neal said. “When you look at the foreclosure statistics in the entire city, North Long Beach is high, to be sure, but it isn’t the highest.
“The perception of people in North Long Beach is that they always get dumped on by the rest of the city. I want to help change that perception.”
Neal points to the work done by his predecessor, Val Lerch, and the Redevelopment Agency, saying it has prepared the way for progress.
A number of properties along Atlantic Avenue, Artesia Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard have been cleared of substandard development, and construction has begun on the new Fire Station 12, which includes a regional disaster preparedness depot.
“I think North Long Beach is primed for a rebirth like we’ve seen in Belmont Shore, downtown, Bixby Knolls,” Neal said. “I think we have the political will. But the effort will take citizen participation. Today was a good example, with more than 100 people talking about the North Village Center.
“People are looking for a place for a community center, a gathering place. The city budget right now almost precludes anything unilateral, so we need to seek public/private partnerships. We need to find a way to think out of the box until our budget issue is resolved.”
Neal says he has an image he wants to project, and that he believes North Long Beach wants to project as well. It’s all about getting the job done, he said.
“I’m just an ordinary guy trying to do my best for my family and the people I represent,” he said. “That’s the best I, and we, can do.”