Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program

In response to the surge in foreclosure cases in recent years, the CBF and other partner organizations worked with the Circuit Court of Cook County to launch an innovative new Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program. The program provides free housing counseling, legal assistance and mediation services to Cook County homeowners and families in foreclosure and is designed to help homeowners resolve their mortgage cases in the most fair and effective manner possible.

With funding from the County, people facing foreclosure now have access through a central help line to free housing counseling, brief legal assistance and community education. In appropriate cases, they also have access to mediation to help them reach an agreement with their lender either to modify their loan and stay in their home or otherwise to resolve their case in as fair and dignified manner as possible.

The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) was a partner in the development of the program and has managed the program’s legal and mediation components from the program’s inception. The CBF is managing the legal and mediation aspects of the program in partnership with several of our grantee organizations which include the following:

Advice and Brief Legal Assistance in the Court

The Chicago Legal Clinic (CLC) provides core legal advice and assistance to borrowers at several locations at or near the court. These services provide a number of benefits to the borrowers and the Courts and, because foreclosure is a complex judicial process, are critical to the success of the program. Lawyers at the Advice Desk perform a legal “triage” that helps determine whether borrowers may have a legal defense to the foreclosure. Lawyers explain the borrower’s legal rights and responsibilities, explain the court process to them, and help them complete the necessary legal forms to navigate what can be a very complex and daunting court process to a layperson-particularly someone facing a stressful situation like foreclosure.

The availability of these free services gives borrowers legitimate options to counter the rampant number of scams being perpetrated on unsuspecting borrowers in our communities and thereby helps combat fraud. And like the other legal and mediation services in the Program, these services by Chicago Legal Clinic are tremendously cost-efficient. Since the program began, more than 20,000 borrowers have received legal advice or assistance through the program.

Mediation Services

The Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) is providing the core mediation services for the Program, including management and oversight of the mediations and recruiting, training and supporting a dedicated corps of volunteer mediators. Of the 250 mediations completed by the end of 2010, 67% reached an agreement, and nearly half resulted in permanent loan modifications that ensured the borrowers would stay in their homes. There was a 95% satisfaction rate for those participating in these completed mediations. And given the relatively modest amount of funding for this part of the program during the start-up phase, the mediations have been tremendously cost-efficient as well.

Legal Representation in Court and in Mediation Sessions

Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS) provides pro bono representation to borrowers in the mediation sessions and in associated court hearings. Legal representation for the borrowers in the mediations is critical to the success of the Program, as it involves navigating a complex judicial proceeding in which the lenders always are represented by counsel. Having representation in the mediation sessions levels the playing field for the borrowers, helps borrowers obtain and submit all documents and related evidence necessary to reach settlements, and helps ensure accountability for lenders in these proceedings.

Training and Support

The Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAF), which is recognized both locally and nationally for its expertise in legal issues surrounding foreclosure matters, provides training and support for the program.

The legal and mediation aspects of the Circuit Court’s Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program have proven to be very successful and extremely cost-effective since the start-up phase of the program began in late April, 2010. The program already has helped thousands of people facing foreclosure while efficiently utilizing hundreds of volunteers and leveraging significant additional resources from the CBF and others.

For more information, contact Dina Merrell at or (312) 554-1206.