Foreclosure Crisis Hitting Affluent Suburbs

Carol Jones never thought it could happen to her. She had a great job working as a nurse at an Evanston hospital.

She had a Glencoe condo in a near-perfect location–close to public transportation, close to her kids.

But in May of 2009, she became ill.  Her doctor informed her that she had Guillain-Barré, a rare viral disease that eats a way at the protective covering surrounding the nervous system, eventually leading to paralysis.

She spent the next three months in the hospital, and another month wheelchair bound in a nursing home.

With her monthly health bills at $1,047, and her disability income at $1,054, she couldn’t make ends meet. “Being totally incapacitated, I couldn’t pay my mortgage,” she says. She couldn’t get a loan modification from her lender, because she hadn’t yet been late on a payment. “I was frantically trying to figure out how I was going to manage,” she says.

A counselor referred Jones to Jasmine Brewer, director of housing counseling at the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs in Winnetka. Each month, between 15 and 35 people come to the center in a financial situation similar to Jones’.  Brewer’s team offers them free and confidential foreclosure prevention counseling. That process includes educating homeowners, referring them to local lenders and helping them renegotiate their loans.

Over the last fiscal year, they’ve been busy. Brewer says they’ve serviced more than 260 clients–a sign, she says, that the foreclosure crisis is creeping its way north of Chicago into more affluent suburbs. In the first half of 2010, there were 810 North Cook County properties with foreclosure filings, according to Chicago’s Woodstock Institute. Throughout 2009, there were a total of 467 mortgages under water in the area. “I guess you could say the economy doesn’t discriminate against anyone,” Brewer says.

Brewer connected Jones to a sympathetic local bank, which agreed to lower her payment by $150 a month and waive any fee associated with the new loan. On the day Jones visited the bank to make the deal official, Brewer even joined her there. “I had her there right by my side,” Jones remembers.

Jones also rented out her bedroom through Interfaith’s Home-sharing program, which matches homeowners in need of extra income with renters looking for affordable housing. “It was a miracle, and an answer to prayer,” Jones says. “It helped me out tremendously.”

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