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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 31, 2008

Guilderland resident dreams big
Lonardelli wants to start a bank to help those in foreclosure

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Local foreclosure consultant Peter Lonardelli is looking for volunteers to help stop the record-high numbers of foreclosures here in the Capital District and, eventually, nationwide. He hopes to start the first mortgage annuity bank in the country.

“I’ve got time, I’ve got experience, and I want to help people,” Lonardelli said. “I’ve gotten hundreds of loans reinstated.”

On Aug. 4, Lonardelli will host a meeting for interested volunteers to discuss starting an association “where concerned citizens want to work with people,” he said. Lonardelli wants to use his experience to start a bank called “Pennies From Heaven,” which he hopes to fund with donations from the public and from private business sponsors.

Five years ago, he and his wife, Patricia, wrote a self-published self-help booklet called “Safe At Home USA.” They also produced a video featuring themselves and their children to accompany the workbook. The booklet contains definitions of financial terms, descriptions of the foreclosure process, and advice on how to proceed from various points within the process. The end of the booklet contains sample letters that can be altered and used by those in foreclosure to communicate with mortgage holders.

The “Pennies From Heaven” bank idea grew from the Lonardellis program described in the booklet and video, whereby those facing foreclosure learn how to set aside funds for mortgage payments, even when banks no longer accept their payments.

The proposed mortgage annuity bank would give 50 percent of the interest paid on a loan back to a homeowner, and the other 50 percent would be given back to the community, he writes. Mortgage payments would be reassessed regularly and adjusted on a sliding scale so that homeowners could remain in their homes if their circumstances changed, he said. If they get behind in payments, he said, they could use the annuity fund created by the interest they had paid in.

Lonardelli wants businesses to give tax-deductible donations to start the business, but he also wants the public to contribute. Because he volunteers, and he is asking for other volunteers, there would be no cost on the principal, he said.

“If 10 people get 10 people to start saving change…and if 2,000 people get 2,000 people, that’s 400,000 people. And, that’s how you start a bank,” he wrote in a brochure for Pennies From Heaven. “Together, we can start a bank that stops foreclosure,” he wrote.

Private consulting

The Lonardellis’ circumstances changed recently, too. Lonardelli now receives disability pay because of a bi-polar diagnosis, and his wife works at a state job. Lonardelli worked for several years as a foreclosure consultant in the Capital District, he said, and with homeowners in several states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“I no longer do that privately. All my time is spent writing,” he said. He regularly checks in county clerks’ offices, contacting people who have been listed as being in foreclosure. He mails them a cover letter explaining himself, and offers his services or his booklet to them free as a public service, he said.

“I want to help people. This is my destiny,” he said. Asked why he no longer charges for his services, Lonardelli said, “This is more important for God and country.”

He gets calls from people all over the region.

“I don’t even know who they are. They’d be a Bob, or a Marilyn,” he said. Currently, he is working with three homeowners. “I’m educating them on how to talk to the bank,” he said.

One man lost his job, and his wife has cancer. Using the form letters in Lonardelli’s booklet, the family communicated with the bank and worked out a new payment plan.

“That made me feel good this week,” Lonardelli said. “These are good people who want to pay off their mortgage. I’m showing them how to work with the banks. [The banks] won’t proceed as quickly with their foreclosure. It gives the two parties a way to figure it out.”

Attorney Michael Mansion, who has a practice in Colonie, said that he has had a business relationship with Lonardelli for more than a decade. The two men met while working on foreclosures.

“I did a lot of bankruptcies,” Mansion said. [Lonardelli] has always been an entrepreneur. He’s got an idea that sounds interesting. It might have some legs. It would be a lot of hard work.”

Mansion said that he is impressed with Lonardelli.

“Certainly, his heart’s in the right place. He really is trying to do some good here,” Mansion said.

Deborah Sturm Rausch, the director of public information with the state Consumer Protection board, said that she was unable to comment on Lonardelli’s idea, but she offered advice for consumers.

“It’s very complicated to start a bank,” she said. Banks need the “proper insurances [so that] people can be guaranteed that their money is not at risk. Consumers need to be very careful where they put their money,” Sturm Rausch said, “whether it’s in a bank or a gift card. Read the fine print carefully, understand all the terms and conditions, and understand any restrictions on how they get their money.”

Residential mortgage originators at First National Bank of Scotia would not comment, either.

“If someone says to me, ‘annuity,’ it’s an investment vehicle,” one said. “How are they going to use the proceeds?”

Lonardelli said that his Pennies From Heaven plan came to fruition as a mortgage annuity bank.

Six years ago, he said, he would spend 15 minutes in a county clerk’s office, copying down names of people in foreclosure. Now, he spends two hours.

“The increase is staggering,” Lonardelli said. “I was amazed by the numbers.”

Lonardelli has no idea how many people will attend the meeting at his home, at 485 Church road, on Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. If there are too many for his home, they will move to the garage, even if it’s standing room only, he said. Lonardelli wants to create 10 committees of volunteers to work together to develop the Pennies From Heaven bank.

“I’m not going to give up on this,” Lonardelli said. “I’m not going to quit. That’s my dream, and it can work.”

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