Foreclosure help for Chicago homeowners

May 16, 2009 (CHICAGO) From a new proposal to a bank protest. The foreclosure crisis is a problem with no end in sight, it seems, as the economy continues to struggle.

It is expected there will be 50,000 new foreclosure filings in Cook County this year, and Saturday, a new plan emerged that would essentially force lenders to meet with homeowners facing foreclosure before their house is taken away.

A group of protesters gathered Saturday outside of a Bank of America branch on Chicago's Southwest Side, but their anger extended to nearly every company in the home lending business.

"We were trying to talk to them, trying to talk many times, but they didn't listen to me," said Elia Santana, who is facing foreclosure.

Santana's family fell behind in their mortgage payments to Countrywide after her father died and husband lost his job. She is among those who say the big banks need to have a heart.

"All they tell me, 'You owe this money, you have to pay.' They don't really care about how bad our situation was," she said.

The banks insist they can and do help homeowners who have a reasonable chance at affording their home. Bank of America says, last year, they renegotiated terms with 300,000 homeowners facing foreclosure.

Saturday, on the city's South Side, Citi home loan specialists set up shop at the RainbowPUSH Coalition's headquarters.

"Many people, if they acted when they first had an indication they were in trouble, they could have gotten help, but many of them waited until it was too late," said the coalition's Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"We help eight out of nine people. We talk from rate reductions, to extending the terms of the mortgage, to people who are unemployed," said Citi Illinois President Darryl Hendricks.

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado is pushing a plan that would force lenders to pay for counselors to meet with each and every person facing foreclosure with the goal of negotiating a solution.

"Eighty percent of people facing foreclosures in Cook County occur without the owner ever appearing in court, ever. This will change," the Democratic commissioner said.

Many banks say they want to help. Others say they only do when backed into a corner or when television cameras are around.

However, there are countless community organizations that can help people get access to key decision-makers at large lending institutions. Sometimes, that is the best way to cut through the red tape.

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