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With 81 homes already sold in foreclosure, another 36 scheduled to be sold at auction in the next two months and a record 176 pre-foreclosure cases filed this year to date, Evanston is not immune from the housing crisis seizing the country.

Interim Community Development Director Dennis Marino said City staff members meet weekly to “develop strategies for dealing with foreclosed properties and helping prevent foreclosures.” There is some financial help available for at-risk homeowners who are still making payments, he said, and counseling services for those in foreclosure. The City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org, is updated regularly with foreclosure news, he said.

Economic Help

The federal Economic and Housing Recovery Act of 2008, passed in July of this year, offers homeowners some assistance to remain in their homes. The “Neighborhood Stabilization Program” of the Act offers mortgage refinancing, counseling on foreclosure prevention and a first-time-homebuyer tax credit. The City plans to apply for some of the EHRA funds allocated to the State of Illinois or Cook County, Mr. Marino said.

In addition, Bank of America, which recently purchased Countrywide – including many of its “predatory” loans – has said it will restructure many loans in Illinois. At present, it is not known how many Evanston residents will be helped by this program, Mr. Marino said.

Once a homeowner has defaulted on the mortgage and the house has been foreclosed on, though, there is very little that can be done. Most of the funds available through federal, state and local programs are directed toward the purchase and rehab of foreclosed properties, according to a recent memo prepared by Mr. Marino concerning the foreclosure situation.

Education and Counseling

A communitywide effort is under way to educate at-risk homeowners about available resources to prevent default and foreclosure. Mr. Marino outlined several of these efforts in his memo: Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs (847-501-5760; interfaithhousingcenter.org) and CEDA Neighbors at Work (1229 Emerson St.; 847-328-5166; http://www.cedaorg.net/www2/CEDANeighbors.html.) “meet with clients individually and may help them work out a plan with their lenders to cure the default (such as forbearance or a modification of the loan) or provide the owner with resources and information if the default is incurable and loss of the home is inevitable.” The Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago

The City’s Health and Human Services Committee will hold a foreclosure-prevention seminar at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the Civic Center.

Foreclosed Properties

At the Oct. 13 City Council meeting, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said “squatters” have taken over some of the vacant houses and apartments in the City. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “When this happens it’s so demoralizing for the other tenants.” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, added, “It destabilizes a neighborhood.” Ald. Holmes said, “People have to understand, once they miss one payment they should call CEDA or Interfaith. If they miss two or three [payments] – I hate to say this – but then it’s too late.” Ald. Holmes urged the City to take action “maybe to buy some of the homes and rehab them as low-income housing.”