By Andre Salles
February 26, 2009
 
With soaring numbers in Kane, candidate wants city to take action

AURORA — Alderman and mayoral candidate Richard Irvin would like
to see the city take a more active role in reducing foreclosures.

In a proposal released Wednesday, Irvin laid out his plan to keep
more homeowners in their homes. He suggests using the city’s clout to
facilitate discussions between lenders and homeowners once foreclosure
proceedings have been started.

He is calling these meetings "conciliation conferences," and he believes in most cases a settlement can be worked out.

He’s modeled this plan after a similar one in the city of
Philadelphia, first announced in April of last year. Within 30 to 45
days of foreclosure papers being filed in court, homeowners in
Philadelphia must attend a conciliation conference with their lender
and get housing counseling.

The program’s startup cost was $1.2 million, but according to
published reports, more than 600 families already have received
assistance to stay in their homes.

Irvin believes an Aurora-based program would cost less. Aurora
already has partnerships with organizations that provide credit
counseling, he said. And while administering the program certainly
would require some full-time city staff effort, Irvin believes the
money can be found within the city’s budget.

Foreclosures skyrocket


No one would argue that the rising foreclosure rate needs to be
addressed — even President Barack Obama has put forth his own
proposal, underscoring the scope of the problem.

The Chicago-based Woodstock Institute keeps track of foreclosures
across the state and has noted a marked increase in the past year.

In 2006, Kane County had 1,614 foreclosures, according to Woodstock’s figures, while in 2007 that rose to 2,302.

But 2008 saw a nearly 50 percent increase, to 3,451. And that
number may be significantly low, according to Scott Berger of the Kane
County Development Department. In fact, the county recorder’s office
shows 4,178 foreclosure complaints (called "Lis Pendens") filed in
court in 2008, compared to 2,830 filed in 2007.

Just in Aurora, the Woodstock Institute’s figures show a 48 percent
jump in foreclosures in one year — from 1,031 in 2007 to 1,531 in
2008. Most of Kane County’s foreclosures, Berger said, are centered in
three areas — Aurora, Elgin and Carpentersville.

Working with agencies


Another mayoral candidate, Stephanie Kifowit, said she certainly
sees the need, but she believes local government should not serve as
go-between during foreclosure proceedings. She said the city already
works with organizations like Joseph Corporation to make housing
counseling available to homeowners and should continue to be a conduit.

"The city already facilitates seminars (on housing)," Kifowit
said. "I don’t think the city should be between the judge and the
homeowner."

Mayor Tom Weisner, who is running for re-election, urged Irvin to
submit his proposal to the City Council, but pointed out the things
Aurora already does to put homeowners in touch with counseling and
other services that could help them keep their houses.

Weisner said the key is to get homeowners to help themselves before
foreclosure becomes a certainty, and to that end the city has sponsored
workshops for homeowners and has partnered with agencies like Family
Counseling Service and Joseph Corporation, both in Aurora.

In late January, the city began sending out fliers with municipal
water bills, informing homeowners of counseling services available to
them. Since then, Kathi Limoges, executive director of Family
Counseling Service, said she has seen a significant increase in the
number of people seeking information.

She said Irvin’s plan would be a waste of time and resources.

"The services are here," she said. "It’s just a matter of people availing themselves."

Impact on community


Kane County’s Berger said he would like to see more people reach
out for help, but getting the homeowners and lenders together should be
a matter for the courts. In his role with the county, Berger works with
Joseph Corporation and other agencies and has started hosting seminars
to connect homeowners with the resources that can help them. (The next
is scheduled for March 25 at the Kane County Government Center in
Geneva.)

Irvin understands that his plan does not touch on the root causes
of foreclosure and said elements of his as-yet-unreleased economic
proposal would address them. But he said something needs to be done now
to help those in foreclosure so that they don’t lose their homes.

"If we don’t work together to address this issue now," he said, "we
will pay huge in the future. It will have an impact on crime on our
neighborhoods and on the image and perception of Aurora."

 
 
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