The numbers are hard to ignore: It is expected that more than 50,000 homeowners in Cook County will face foreclosure before the end of the year.
Making a sad situation even more unfortunate is the fact that many of those homeowners are not aware of a new Cook County Mediation Foreclosure Program that can help them navigate their way through the system. And it's free.
The goal of the $3.5 million program is to give lenders, banks and homeowners a neutral place to meet face to face.
"When they first get their summons concerning their foreclosure, there’s a number on their for a counseling service. It’s a help desk and it’s the first thing they need to do," said Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
From there, homeowners make an appointment to meet one-on-one with housing counselors at the Daley Center. Next, they meet with lawyers to talk over the counselor’s recommendations and prepare for a court date. That step determines whether the case can be mediated or if it heads to foreclosure.
Evans is challenging financially distressed homeowners to put the system to the test.
"I know that first thing that’s going to come to their mind is, 'Gee whiz, if I can’t afford to pay my mortgage, I certainly can’t afford to pay for counseling services, or a lawyer, or somebody else.' This is free," he said.
Still, while free, it can be time consuming. No one has made it through the entire process yet. But so far, more than 1,200 homeowners facing foreclosure have gotten help.
Evans said there are now 10 non-profit organizations going door to door in some of the hardest-hit communities to spread the word about the program.