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Philadelphia Fighting Foreclosures Head-On

After years of saving to buy her first home, Yajaira Cruz-Rivera thought she was choosing a responsible mortgage.

But, reports CBS News correspondent Priya David, just days after her family moved in, trouble arrived, too.

Rivera-Cruz thought she was getting a fixed-rate mortgage with payments of $920 a month.

Instead, she suddenly started receiving letters claiming a mix-up.

In just weeks, her payments grew twice, settling at nearly $1,700.

Rivera-Cruz fought with her loan company, saying her new payment was unfair and unaffordable.

"I have an obligation to my family and my home," she explained to David. "And I was determined to do whatever I needed to do to, to prove my standing to save my home."

That's when she saw an ad on TV for ACORN) (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a community organization committed to helping homeowners fight foreclosure. Together, they rallied the city for change.

Their call to action got the attention of Philadelphia officials, who enacted a series of groundbreaking initiatives.

First, they stopped the sale of all foreclosed properties, eliminating an incentive to force struggling homeowners out. And now, the city's playing dealmaker, insisting that homeowners and lenders meet in courts in City Hall, to broker settlements.

The first weeklong session convened recently with more than 600 cases on the docket.

"My stuff got postponed," one homeowner says. "My mortgage company's working with me. They give me lawyers for free. This is a great program!"

"This," says Court of Common Pleas Judge Annette Rizzo, "was a very unique group of cases. These are the ones that were literally going to be at sheriff sale with the gavel coming down in April and May."

At the heart of the conciliation program -- two judges who were convinced that helping both sides strike a deal was best for their city.

"As a matter of law, we did not have to act," points out C. Darnell Jones, the presiding judge of the Court of Common Pleas. "Nevertheless, we have consciences, and we think that this is one of the best and most affective ways to deal with it."

Lenders say they were surprised, and pleased.

"I've always been told that you know a good settlement (when) both parties walk away unhappy. But that's not the case in this case. ... In that respect, this program is very novel," observes a lawyer representing mortgage lenders, Lorraine Gazzara Doyle.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has allocated $2 million for an outreach program that includes public service announcements, a telephone hotline, even having volunteers going door to door, to let homeowners know they have options, before they reach foreclosure.

Says Nutter, "You just can't lose sight of the human side of all this. ... These are real people, real families. In many instances, with children. These are real lives that could be devastated but for this kind of activity."

Rivera-Cruz was able to renegotiate with her lender, and now pays a fixed-rate loan she can afford.

Oh -- and she left her job as a registered nurse to work full-time at ACORN, helping others like her.

The city plans a new round of hearings later this month.