The Circuit Court of Cook County Reaches Out to Help Homeowners Facing Foreclosure
According to a recent Chicago Sun Times article, “Foreclosure filings catapulted 66.4 percent in Cook County in August from a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac’s latest report. . . and [f]ilings in the Chicago metropolitan area spiked 36.1 percent in August from a year earlier.”
With foreclosure rates “catapulting” and in an economy where the market values of homes are down, refinancing is difficult, people are losing jobs or afraid of losing jobs, the Circuit Court of Cook County is taking action. As a result of the new Circuit Court of Cook County Foreclosure Mediation Program, there is now help available for the increasing number of homeowners facing the possibility of losing their homes to foreclosure.
In April of 2010, the Circuit Court of Cook County, led by Chief Judge Timothy Evans, announced the launch of its Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program. The Court established the program and is working with state and local organizations and several legal aid groups and housing counselors to provide free assistance to Cook County residents who have received foreclosure summons from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The mediation program aims to ensure that homeowners know their options and to try to bring more banks and homeowners to the negotiating table.
The Program to Deliver Critical Services to Homeowners in Foreclosure Process
Ultimately, Chief Judge Evans says, “The program’s goal is to deliver critical services to homeowners as early as possible once the foreclosure process begins. In this way, homeowners in crisis are assured of receiving the support and information they need to explore fully their options either to stay in their homes or to negotiate a respectable exit.”
More specifically, the Circuit Court’s mediation program is structured to allow for a diverse range of outcomes—to assist the homeowner in navigating the foreclosure process whether it leads to a sustainable loan modification or to one of several “graceful exits.” According to the Regional Home Ownership Preservation Initiative these possible exits include:
…deed-in-lieu transactions, where the homeowner voluntarily transfers the deed to the bank instead of foreclosure; short sales, where a bank allows a home to be sold for less than what is owed on the loan; consent foreclosure agreements, where the homeowner will not contest the foreclosure, further preventing a deficiency judgment; or agreements for rental of the property, where the homeowner agrees to transfer their property to the lender in exchange for a rental lease.
The Austin Weekly News reports the mediation program, administered by the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court (where foreclosure cases are filed and heard—and credited with a critical role in making the mediation program a reality), is being funded via a $3.5 million grant from the Cook County Board and, as of the end of August 2010, had helped more than 2,000 homeowners.
Free Counselors Available to Homeowners in the Foreclosure Process
Once a homeowner receives a summons, he or she may schedule a meeting, free of charge, with a HUD-certified housing counselor. The counselors work for an agency that is approved by HUD to provide advice regarding buying or renting a home, defaults, foreclosure, and credit issues. To schedule a meeting the homeowner must call the toll free help line provided on the website (877.895.2444 or 312.836.5222 TDD) or may use this online appointment request form. The housing counselors meet on-site with homeowners at 69 W. Washington and at the Richard J. Daley Center. No walk-in appointments are accepted so homeowners must schedule an appointment in advance.
After the homeowner has met with a housing counselor, he or she will then have the opportunity to meet with an attorney to talk about the counselor’s recommendations, whether they have any defenses to the foreclosure action, and for assistance in preparing for the first court date where a judge determines whether the homeowner’s foreclosure case can be mediated with the lender in question.
Don’t Ignore the Problem—Help is Available
According to a spokesperson for the Circuit Court of Cook County, the important thing for homeowners to know is that they need to show up to court and see what can be done to help the situation—coming to court does not mean that the homeowner will lose his or her house, but NOT showing up to court that first time makes it more difficult to get back on track. Chief Judge Evans explains that the mediation program is here to let homeowners know, “they will not have to face the [foreclosure] process alone.”
Facing a foreclosure is intimidating. An all-too-common but understandable response of homeowners who are finding it difficult to make their mortgage payments or who have received a summons is to ignore the problem. The mediation program has been set up to make it easier for homeowners to face a foreclosure by ensuring that they have access to legal assistance and are fully informed regarding their options.
The spokesperson also pointed out that the Court has just recently made contacting the mediation program to set up an appointment with a housing counselor easier by making it possible for nervous homeowners to click on a link and make contact with the mediation program representatives online. Further, they have also recently made the online appointment system available in Polish and Spanish.
In order to qualify for the program, homeowners must:
- be residents of Cook County;
- have received a foreclosure summons from the Circuit Court of Cook County; and
- live in the building in foreclosure, which may be a single-family home, single-family condominium, or an apartment building with four or fewer units.
If a homeowner is concerned about going into foreclosure but is not yet in foreclosure and has not yet received a summons, a list of resources is available, but they are not eligible for this particular program.
For more information about the Circuit Court of Cook County Mediation program or to set up an appointment, visit http://