Foreclosure help available, not used

The news: The Cook County Board of Commissioners approved $3.5 million for a program that forces mortgage lenders to mediate foreclosure with homeowners. The Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, launched in April, is voluntary for homeowners and provides volunteer lawyers and housing counselors to build their legal case.

Behind the news: Less than 10 percent of eligible Cook County home-owners are participating in the program, according to a new analysis of court data obtained by The Chicago Reporter.

Cook County homeowners qualify if they have received a foreclosure notice and live in a home with four residential units or less. People living in large condominium buildings do not qualify.

There is at least one possible reason for the county’s low participation. For one, the program is voluntary, said Rachel Gallegos, law clerk to the judge who helped create a similar program in Philadelphia that is mandatory for all people in residential foreclosure.

Philadelphia’s program started in June 2008. There, about 75 percent of home-owners participate after going into foreclosure. The remaining 25 percent are either not eligible for the program or do not cooperate with the court to complete the program, said Common Pleas Judge Annette Rizzo. But Philadelphia’s program witnesses about 12,000 foreclosure filings a year. Conversely, the Circuit Court of Cook County combats more than four times as many foreclosure filings. About 53,000 foreclosures are expected this year, according to Carina Segalini, who coordinates the program in Chicago.

The circuit court’s intense caseload necessitates a voluntary program, Segalini said. There are not enough resources to handle tens of thousands of cases, she added. Currently, the Circuit Court has 20 housing counselors to guide residents through the foreclosure process and six volunteer lawyers to build up a qualifying homeowners’ legal defense.

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