Homeowners in St. Clair County facing foreclosure have resources available as they go through the process - the St. Clair County Mediation program being one of them.
More than 150 homeowners have taken advantage of the program since its start in 2014, and more than half of participants have been able to keep their homes over the past two years, according to program coordinator Tracy Douglas.
“Most [of the participants] are established homeowners who have been in their homes for a decade or more,” Douglas told the Record. “They’ve just hit a situation where they’ve lost a job, lost income, or had a health issue.”
Douglas said the program began through the St. Clair County Court’s partnership with Dispute Resolution, with grant funding from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Funding from the National Foreclosure Settlement supported the grant from Madigan’s office.
She said that while foreclosure is a stressful situation and homeowners often try to move quickly, it’s important for homeowners to know that even though they’ve been served with a foreclosure notice, they do not have to leave their home immediately – in fact, they must still be in the home in order to join the foreclosure mediation program.
“The point of the program is to try and save the home,” said program administrator Missy Greathouse. “When people receive a notice, they tend to try and move out quickly, but they don’t have to. The date that they will have to be out of the home by will be on the foreclosure notice.”
There are two ways to join the program. When an individual is served with a notice of foreclosure, there is paperwork included – a request for mediation, which must be returned to the Circuit Clerk's office in the St. Clair County Courthouse within 30 days of service. The second way to join the program is for those who are currently in foreclosure – they can request that the courts put them into the program.
Program participants receive individualized attention on their foreclosure case. They receive information about attorneys, housing counselors, and programs designed to keep people in their homes. Participants may also be able to negotiate a dignified exit if they want to leave the home. Through the foreclosure mediation program in 2015, approximately three percent were able to negotiate a dignified exit.
“If a homeowner is able to get a loan modification and has a payment plan, they stay in the program for a minimum of six months,” Greathouse said. “It takes six months for a loan modification to become permanent. Once the modification is permanent, they are dismissed from the program.”
Douglas said other resources are available for individuals facing foreclosure.
“Land of Lincoln Legal Aid has a grant from the Land of Lincoln that allows them to provide free help filling out paperwork; they’re not attorneys so they can’t give legal advice, but they can help fill out papers,” Douglas said.
Another program, Beyond Housing, can provide education and counseling for individuals facing foreclosure, through their foreclosure intervention program.
Grant funding of the St. Clair County Foreclosure Mediation program expires April 2018. Douglas said the courts have collected filing fees that will help to fund the foreclosure mediation program once the grant from Madigan’s office expires.
Interested homeowners should call the Dispute Resolution Institute for more information at (618) 549-1500.