Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans has announced a program to assist struggling homeowners facing foreclosure.
According to the Circuit Court's press release (linked above), the Cook County Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program "will provide free housing counseling and legal services to Cook County homeowners and families in foreclosure. The program is aimed at helping homeowners resolve their mortgage cases in the most timely and respectful manner possible."
Judge Evans said, "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."
To be eligible for this program, a person must be the owner and occupant of a 1-4 family home or condominium. Investment properties are not part of this program. The property being foreclosed must be in Cook County and must be the borrower-defendant's primary residence. Finally, the program applies to all foreclosure cases with an initial case management date on or after June 11, 2010. All such cases will have been filed on or after April 12.
Although I do not handle mortgage foreclosure cases, I took the opportunity to attend an April 9 briefing by Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird, the Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division, offered for practitioners. In her remarks, Judge Kinnaird stressed that the program is not meant to delay foreclosure when foreclosure is appropriate; mediation will be allowed only when there is "something to negotiate." In some cases, there may be nothing at all to mediate, although there still may be an opportunity to work out a dignified way to leave the property.
Who decides whether there is something to negotiate in any given case?
The first step in determining whether a homeowner will be able to stay in his or her home is to contact a HUD-certified housing counselor. Any homeowner sued for mortgage foreclosure summons after April 12 should be served with a new five page summons. The second page of the new summons form provides the information that a homeowner needs to pay attention to in order to participate. Among the items on that notice is a toll-free number to call to set up a meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor that is participating in the Cook County program. Information about securing legal representation is also included on that form. Interested readers can find out more about these services by visiting cookcountyforeclosurehelp.org.
Homeowners facing foreclosure may be contacted by all sorts of people offering to help. Unfortunately, some of these people may only be out to help themselves. Sadly, there are people who would prey on distressed homeowners. Homeowners must be careful to deal only with knowledgeable attorneys and reputable, HUD-certified housing counselors.
According to Judge Evans, the Cook County Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program is an unprecedented partnership between the Circuit Court of Cook County and several state and local organizations. According to the court's press release, the program is funded by the Cook County Board and administered by the Circuit Court's Chancery Division, the Circuit Court "and partner organizations, including the Illinois Housing Development Authority, The Chicago Bar Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust." The program will work with "attorneys and mediators from the Center for Conflict Resolution, the Chicago Legal Clinic and Chicago Volunteer Legal Services to provide access to free assistance to homeowners who have received a summons to appear in court."