In 2013, RSI received a grant from the Illinois Attorney General to incubate foreclosure mediation in Illinois. This grant was funded by National Mortgage Settlement funds for a period of three years, later extended to five. This grant will be ending August 31, 2018, at which time the program will be taken over by the court. In this post, Sarah Flores, the Program Coordinator for the 17th Circuit Foreclosure Mediation Program, reflects on her experiences in the role.
Prior to becoming the Program Coordinator for the 17th Circuit Foreclosure Mediation Program, I didn’t know a lot about mediation. Before I became a program coordinator, I was a teacher and taught science and reading. As a teacher, I used mediation skills daily without even realizing it. When teachers ask questions, they need to listen and summarize, sometimes mentioning the emotions that students feel around the topic. Teachers have to make each student feel heard and active listening is a way to do this. Mediators do the same thing. They make each side feel heard, acknowledge emotions and summarize. After walking away from teaching, I have fallen in love with mediation in this position. I enjoy the satisfaction of making people feel heard and working through issues. Even though a parties’ issues may not be resolved in the end, they understand what they can do to resolve them.
I really enjoy being able to help people. Homeowners who are in foreclosure typically have not been there before and do not know how the process works or how to save their home. Empowering an individual who may feel helpless and undereducated about the process is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Many times, even if the homeowner is not going to keep their house, they still are grateful for the program.
My best experience was getting to work with a couple who had given up completely. When they entered the program they were anxious about every step. I answered countless phone calls from them. In the end, they were able to keep their home and they were absolutely delighted with the result. Had they not been in the program, I am not sure that they would have followed through on all the steps to complete the retention process.
One of my worst experiences during my time as Program Coordinator involved working with a difficult homeowner who wanted to keep his home. Even though I frequently clarified my role as a neutral party, the homeowner incorrectly thought that I could make the lender offer him better deals and that my mediator represented him. The homeowner wanted to negotiate a reinstatement amount, the lender would not negotiate on the amount. After several mediations where the homeowner did not have the funds, but kept stating that he would have them, the homeowner was removed from the program. I believe that had the homeowner been open to more options and better understood how the program worked, a more helpful solution could have been provided. Not all cases are negative, most cases that come through the program are positive and end with positive results.
The one thing I wish I could do is get homeowners to follow through. Although turning in the initial documents can seem daunting, especially to busy or elderly homeowners, it is an important task. I try to help the best I can, but being a neutral party I can only do so much.
Though my time with RSI is coming to an end, I am glad I have the opportunity to continue doing this work. This is in large part due to the fact that the 17th Judicial Circuit has been an innovator in court ADR for decades. There was a lot of creative work that was done to keep the program financially viable after the grant comes to an end. That creativity shows this work is still valued even after the “foreclosure crisis” is over.