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Cook County braces for 'catastrophic' wave of evictions, foreclosures in 2021
Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a countywide effort to help people stay in their homes and deal with tax debt and property deed issues.

Monday, November 23, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by Dennis Rodkin

Looking ahead at what could become a massive surge in both evictions and foreclosures in 2021, Cook County officials are rolling out a program designed to mitigate its effects and keep people in their homes where possible.

Moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures have prevented most people who’ve lost income during the pandemic from being displaced from their homes, but when those protections expire, a rush to the courts could be “catastrophic for Cook County renters and homeowners,” Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board, said in a virtual press conference this morning.

 

“A wave is on the horizon here in Cook County and across the country,” Preckwinkle said, and “the heaviest burden will fall on the most vulnerable among us, Black and Brown residents. This is unacceptable.”

Along with representatives of the Cook County Board, Chicago City Hall and the Circuit Court of Cook County, Preckwinkle unveiled an initiative called Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt, or CLAAHD, a countywide effort to help people deal with eviction, foreclosure, tax debt and property deed issues.

Its initial funding is $1 million from the county’s share of CARES Act funding, but Preckwinkle said she expects the programs to last well beyond the use of that money and called on Congress to provide more aid.

The aim is to prevent widespread displacement from housing due to “a crisis that none of us expected,” said Alma Anaya, commissioner of Cook County’s 7th District, on the Southwest Side. Anaya said her district has had the state’s highest concentration of COVID cases.

Efforts to keep people in their homes and keep landlords paid has occupied housing agencies “for most of the year,” said Marisa Novara, the city’s housing commissioner, “and as winter approaches, having a safe home becomes even more important.”

Novara said that even with Chicago’s $33 million pandemic-related housing assistance program and tenant protection ordinances, small-portfolio landlords are “in challenging times. They still have to maintain their properties in the face of lost rent.”

The first major component of CLAAHD is a program designed to help reduce court actions, primarily by negotiating resolutions between landlords and tenants, as well as homeowners who are delinquent on property tax payments.

The Early Resolution Program is designed to “see if we can find a way for the tenant and landlord to embrace a new payment plan” before going to court, said Timothy Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. “We know it’s helpful for a tenant to stay in the premises while paying under a new payment plan,” Evans said.

If the sides can't agree to a payment plan, Evans said, the aim would be to provide for "a dignified exit by the tenant," such as an established amount of time to find new housing. It could also prevent putting an eviction on the person's legal record, which Evans said is often an obstacle to securing another place to live.

Not only would negotiating settlements prior to court action save both tenant and landlord time, money and frustration, but it would also prevent a logjam at the courts. In the foreclosure wave set off by the last financial crisis, the court’s foreclosure load nearly quadrupled between 2008 and 2012 and resulted in thousands of properties sitting vacant for years and scarring their neighborhoods.

“We know from experience when people have access to legal help at the outset, it can make a difference for them and leads to better solutions for everyone—landlords and creditors included,” said Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, a partner in the program that will coordinate pro bono legal services.

The program’s phone line, 855-956-5763, and website are live now, but officials said some components of the program are still being formulated. Among other things, “a more robust tax deed-specific program is planned for 2021,” Preckwinkle said.

 



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