County Officials Announce New Legal Assistance Initiative: Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt
COOK COUNTY, IL – Today, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Cook County Commissioners Alma Anaya and Scott Britton, Chicago Bar Foundation Executive Director Bob Glaves, and Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara to announce the launch of Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt (CCLAHD). CCLAHD is a new, county-wide initiative aimed at helping residents resolve eviction, foreclosure, debt, and tax deed issues.
“Cook County has been experiencing an affordable housing crisis since at least the turn of the century,” said President Preckwinkle. “The pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis and the most vulnerable among us, our Black and Brown residents, have once again been left to bear the brunt of the burden. When you look at this issue against the backdrop of the financial hit many are taking, we understood we needed to step in and provide solutions.”
Today’s announcement signals the start of the first program under the initiative, the Early Resolution Program (ERP). The ERP provides free legal assistance, counseling, pre-court mediation and case management for residents and landlords dealing with evictions or delinquent property taxes, and creditors and debtors with issues related to consumer debt.
The services are provided on a pro-bono basis for residents of Cook County without legal representation and are being offered to: 1) tenants facing eviction, 2) landlords dealing with an eviction, 3) debtors being sued for unpaid debts, 4) creditors wishing to sue on the basis of unpaid debts, and 5) residents who have defaulted on property tax payments or mortgage foreclosure payments.
“It is our hope that this program will help to level the legal playing field during these troubled economic times,” said Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. “By offering assistance to those who need it most, Cook County is showing its commitment to fostering fair resolutions for all.”
Cook County is providing initial funding for the ERP through a $1 million seed allocation of CARES Act funds. These funds will be used to support community partners and expand services to suburban Cook County. The Chicago Bar Foundation has played a critical role in the program development phase and will continue acting as lead coordinator between partner organizations and government offices. Community partners include:
- Center for Conflict Resolution
- Center for Disability & Elder Law
- Chicago Volunteer Legal Services
- Greater Chicago Legal Clinic
- Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing
- Legal Aid Chicago
- Legal Aid Society
“The Chicago Bar Foundation is grateful to County and Court leadership for prioritizing these critical services amid the pandemic,” said Chicago Bar Foundation Executive Director Bob Glaves. “This partnership between the County, the Court, and a network of outstanding legal aid and community partners is sure to help many thousands of County residents in this time of greatest need.”
County officials and community partners also signaled the launch of future CCLAHD programs related to mortgage foreclosure and tax deed assistance in the coming year. As local, state and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures are expected to expire, a portion of the CARES funding will be used to build out these additional programs.
“The economic consequences of the pandemic have caused an urgent need for housing and financial resources,” said Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya. “There is much confusion in the community about what a household’s rights are in order to remain in their home, for example, and I am grateful for the collaboration of the various legal aid agencies, the court system, and the City of Chicago which will surely bring much needed relief.”
“The Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt offers a lifeline to suburban residents,” said Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton. “As a lawyer, I have been acutely aware of the impending legal battles that so many Cook County residents will be facing on the other side of the pandemic. The negative impacts of evictions and unresolved debt can be debilitating for working families across the County, often wreaking havoc on mental and physical health and leading to long-term financial instability. Suburban Cook County is particularly at risk to see a sharp increase in evictions and foreclosures, and the stressors that come along with it. It was an honor to collaborate with President Preckwinkle, Chief Judge Evans, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and so many others to make this a reality.”
Based on the Court’s previous foreclosure mediation program in response to the 2008 recession, estimated costs in FY2021 for all CCLAHD programs range between $4 and $7 million. This wide-ranging estimate accounts for the unknown volume of eviction and foreclosure rates as moratoriums lift. However, according to the most recent analysis conducted by the Aspen Institute in collaboration with the National Low-income Housing Coalition, an influx of filings are expected.
County officials have also committed to continued support for CCLAHD programs after the pandemic has passed. Additional funding will be provided through a combination of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars, County Corporate Funds, philanthropic support and revenue being collected through the newly instituted foreclosure filing fee.
While the initial county funding provided through CARES dollars will support participants in suburban Cook County through the end of this year, the City of Chicago separately provided CARES Act funding for the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing to serve city residents. As a result, all Cook County residents, including city residents, may apply for assistance through CCLAHD and will be referred to the appropriate service agency.
"The devastation of eviction and foreclosure disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities and the coronavirus pandemic is only exacerbating these trends," said City of Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara. "We know that both property owners and renters are struggling during this time, and I want to thank Cook County for creating this vitally important initiative to increase access to legal representation that will help to keep residents in their homes and neighborhoods stabilized. I look forward to continuing to partner in finding solutions that will keep people safely housed."