A Cook County-funded foreclosure program designed to keep people in their homes is being criticized from a county board member.
Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica said the “Foreclosure Mediation Program” targets the wrong demographic.
“What disturbs me in particular is that the majority of the people receiving assistance are unable to afford to live in their homes; people with no assets and low net-to-debt ratio,” said Peraica.
The Cook County Board approved the $3.5 million project in November 2009 that provides housing counseling and assistance to some 60,000 people facing foreclosures.
The program — modeled after a similar program in Philadelphia — involves four state and local organizations: Chicago Legal Volunteer Services, The Chicago Bar Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust and The Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Peraica said since the foreclosure program began nearly a year ago, there have been just 28 completed mediations out of the 412 applicants during that period. According to a report handed out at the September 15 Cook County Board meeting, more than 85 percent of the applications end up in default, meaning the applicants don’t follow through with the program, he said.
Judge Dorothy Kinnaird of the Circuit Court of Cook County said the default rates cited in the report were collected before the first mediation period in July, and said the numbers will improve by the end of the year.
“I don’t respond to commissioners,” Kinnaird said. “Commissioner Peraica has his facts mixed up.”
Kinnaird said it’s too early to tell what the default rates are now, but a report will be available during the second mediation period in December.
Periaca responded to Kinnaird’s statement and said he got the numbers from the report that was handed out at the meeting. He said until he sees facts that these kinds of programs are working, he will not change his stance.
Andrew Celis, program specialist at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, said the first step in dealing with foreclosure is making the applicant aware of the programs available and educating them about their options.
The reason people aren’t responding to the foreclosure programs is because they are embarrassed and unfamiliar with the situation, he said.
“That 85 percent is because of intimidation,” Celis said. “The process of going through foreclosure is intimidating to families who haven’t been in this situation before.”
Celis said he worked with a municipal worker recently who had his hours cut by 20 percent earlier this year. Being the only working member in the household, the applicant found himself in a situation that he never imagined, he said.
Celis was able to save the family’s home by refinancing the mortgage of the property to make their monthly payments more affordable.
He said more homeowners would be able to save their homes if there was more outreach and support from local communities.
“These types of programs work, but the need is larger than resources we have out there. I think we do an excellent job of the resources we do have, however,” said Celis.
Celis said Neighborhood Housing is the only not-for-profit foreclosure program in Chicago, and focuses on strengthening low- to moderate-income neighborhoods by keeping the residents in their homes. When dealing with a legal matter, he said, he refers applicants to the Cook County mediation program.
For more information on upcoming NHS foreclosure events or ways to help with the mediation process, visit nhschicago.org or needhelppayingmybills.com.
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