As I mentioned last month, I recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of eight foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois. One great benefit of evaluating eight programs with different approaches to resolving the same cases is that it allowed me to uncover program design factors and other variables that promote program success. The three big takeaways from the evaluation are that proper program design is essential, provision of services has an impact on homeowner outcomes, and data is crucial to program improvement. The evaluation was a final look at the eight programs that were funded by the Illinois Attorney General, encompassing up to four years for each program. Seven of the eight programs used relatively uniform data that was collected on the same online case management system. Further, I worked with each program to define the variables used so that we had a clear understanding of the meaning of each variable. This allowed me to develop uniform measures for the programs that enabled comparisons of program performance across them.
First, some basic findings. The eight programs helped 4,766 homeowners, representing 23% of all foreclosure filings in their jurisdictions. They saved 1,100 homes. Once homeowners entered the programs, 21% to 40% saved their homes, depending on the program. More than 90% of homeowners who completed surveys said that they gained a better understanding of their options and how to work with their lenders. Almost all homeowners felt that they were treated fairly and with respect. Most felt that they were able to talk about the issues and concerns that were most important to them and almost all felt the mediator understood what was important to them. Most were satisfied with their experience.
Now to the takeaways. Program design played a significant role in how many homeowners a program was able to help and how many homeowners participated in the program. The two variables are different because most programs helped homeowners to understand their options and the foreclosure process, even if they could not or decided not to participate. Those programs that told homeowners that they must appear for their initial session and provided a date and time for that had significantly higher proportions of homeowners appear and participate than programs that had them contact the program in other ways. And those programs that told homeowners they had to call the program coordinator, provided a deadline to do so and sent additional reminders had significantly higher proportions of homeowners contact the program and participate than those programs that informed the homeowners of the program and told them how to start the process to participate.
Participation rate is very important, not just because higher participation means that more homeowners are helped. The greater the proportion of homeowners facing foreclosure who participate in the program, the greater the proportion of homeowners who save their homes.
Other aspects matter as well. Having the homeowners meet with a representative for their lender from the outset appears to improve program completion rates and possibly improves the probability that participating homeowners save their homes. Within individual programs, those homeowners who worked with a housing counselor are more likely to complete the program. Those who worked with attorneys were much more likely to complete the program. Interestingly, they weren’t more likely to save their homes.
It was very gratifying to see that those programs that made changes based on the data they were collecting and the recommendations from my first evaluation were improved by those changes. For example, the 19th Circuit and 20th Circuit programs made changes to the manner in which homeowners contacted and entered the program, significantly improving participation. The 16thand 19th Circuits worked with mediators to improve their skills, leading to fewer mediator issues and more participants leaving mediation with a good experience.