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Kane courts still pursuing foreclosure mediation program

GENEVA – Administrators of the Kane County court system have asked the Kane County Board for clearance to launch a new program designed to reduce the number of home foreclosure cases clogging courtrooms and plaguing neighborhoods throughout the county.

Today, the Kane County Board’s Finance Committee is expected to consider a request from Judith Brawka, chief judge of Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit, to implement a foreclosure mediation program.

Brawka has pushed for the program for months, believing it was needed to alleviate the economic and legal problems that have stemmed from the flood of home mortgage foreclosures that has engulfed Kane County in recent years.

“This is a program we’re hoping we’ll be able to shut down in 3 to 5 years,” Kane County Court Administrator Doug Naughton said. “But this is needed right now, because right now we are just in an exceptional period.”

Before the housing market collapse that accompanied the onset of the Great Recession in 2007 and 2008, the county logged foreclosures that numbered in the hundreds.

By 2011, that number surged to around 5,000, with foreclosures accounting for as much as one-third of all home sales in the region.

In the years since, the number of foreclosures has eased. But, the county still suffered almost 4,300 foreclosures last year and another 4,000 foreclosures are expected this year, Naughton said.

He noted those foreclosures take a heavy toll on the local economy, leaving neighborhoods with vacant homes and driving down property values, and on the court system, producing thousands of additional cases each year that take months to adjudicate.

To reduce those burdens, Kane County’s judiciary hopes to establish a program under which delinquent homeowners and lenders would meet with a court-appointed mediator who could help broker a loan modification deal that would allow the homeowner to remain in their house, the lender to still get paid and the court to dismiss the case and move on to other matters.

Naughton said similar programs in other Illinois counties, including McLean and Madison counties, have shown promise, in some instances cutting foreclosure caseloads by half.

He said Kane’s program would cost about $150,000-$200,000 per year, including about $70,000 to $80,000 to pay attorneys who would be trained and utilized as mediators.

Naughton said the courts intend to pay for the program through a $50 fee charged to lenders for every foreclosure action they bring in the county.

Should foreclosure activity drop low enough to no longer fund the program from the fees, he said the county likely would shut the program down.

After the County Board’s Finance Committee considers the matter, it could advance to the full County Board by Aug. 13 for a vote.

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