Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Foreclosure Victims Turn to Mediation; Free Program Expands in Northeast Florida as More Homeowners Seek Legal Assistance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Foreclosure Victims Turn to Mediation; Free Program Expands in Northeast Florida as More Homeowners Seek Legal Assistance

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE HOWARD

The biggest complaint homeowners have when facing foreclosure, local lawyers say, is that nobody will listen.

They're notified by a letter in the mail, and the rest of it takes place in a formal court setting. Calls for help are often answered by a different person each time. Often, that's as close as they get to talking to their lenders.

That's why foreclosure mediation programs are expanding in Northeast Florida, allowing more homeowners to meet lenders face-to-face to try to reach a compromise - or at least reach a quick resolution.

The program is already running in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which covers Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. About 2,100 new foreclosure cases were filed in that area from March to June, according to program statistics, and about 400 started the mediation process. In July, 140 more entered the program and were referred to credit counseling.

A similar program was launched in July for the Seventh Circuit, which spans St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties. It's free and only available to homeowners who live in the homes facing foreclosure - vacation or commercial properties don't qualify.

Anyone who has been notified that a lender is trying to foreclose on a home they own - and live in - has the option to enter the mediation program. If a borrower asks, the lender must participate, but the banks can't force a homeowner to take part.

No statistics are available yet on how often the mediation has led to homeowners keeping their homes.

"This is a program that we hope will help borrowers to actually be able to sit down across table from their lender, and work out an agreement everyone can live with," said Susan Sowards, executive director of the Jacksonville Bar Association, which is administering the Jacksonville program.

Sowards said the results in the Jacksonville area have been incredibly varied, but generally the outcome will be a loan modification to make it possible for the mortgage to be paid; a short sale; a deed in lieu of foreclosure; or an impasse that leads to final foreclosure proceedings. …

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