Evanston’s foreclosure rate rises

Nathalie Tadena

Fighting foreclosures is a major political battle in Washington, D.C. For some Evanston residents, the fight is hitting close to home.

In Evanston, the owners of 83 properties filed for foreclosure from January through March of this year, according to a recent report by the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based policy and advocacy non-profit organization. The number of foreclosure filings is up 34 percent from this period last year. In 2008, a total of 267 properties were foreclosed in Evanston.

Other suburbs have also been hit by the housing crisis – in the metropolitan area, the number of foreclosures is up 36 percent, according to the report.

The increase in foreclosures is a concern for the City of Evanston, said Donna Spicuzza, a housing planner for the city.

“We don’t like to see vacant buildings and people losing their homes,” she said.

People renting a home that has been foreclosed face a different set of problems.

Renters, even those in good standing, can be faced with eviction or be forced to sign a new lease if their property is foreclosed.

“Sometimes a property takes a while to go through foreclosure, so renters may not know that their land is affected,” Spicuzza said.

To help homeowners and renters, the City of Evanston posted additional information online about foreclosures and how to avoid them, she said.

In addition, local organizations have organized educational forums about foreclosures for community members, said Wilfred Gadsden, executive director of the Citizens’ Lighthouse Community Land Trust, a not-for-profit community organization dedicated to providing affordable housing in Evanston.

“It’s very important that people look carefully at their financial situation,” Gadsden said. “Even if they’re not immediately threatened with foreclosure, but if they find that their home is under financial pressure, they should seek out help.”

Renters can turn to assistance from community housing organizations or U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-certified counseling agencies to evaluate their options with banks and correct any incorrect credit information, Gadsden said.

It takes an average of nine months for a foreclosure to be processed in Cook County. Once a foreclosure transaction has occurred for a property, renters are required to receive a notice of foreclosure. Spicuzza said renters should read the notice carefully, continue to pay rent and negotiate a deal with the new landlord or bank.

Records of foreclosures are accessible to the public.

Adam Beckman, a Communication senior, lives off campus and said he did not know that a neighboring townhouse was undergoing a foreclosure auction.

“I’m not aware of any foreclosures here, and I can’t say that it’s affected our rent,” he said. However, Beckman said his building is a collection of townhouses that are owned by its residents, and there are not many student renters.

Legislators are working to address the issue on a national level. This week, President Barack Obama signed the Helping Families Save their Homes Act of 2009, a law to improve the current housing market.

Among the law’s provisions is the establishment of protections for renters facing eviction from foreclosed homes. According to the new legislation, a renter’s lease would continue to be honored or banks must notify renters of a foreclosure at least 90 days in advance for individuals on a month-to-month lease.

Northwestern does not offer any off-campus housing services, said Associate Director of University Housing Mark D’Arienzo, adding that he had no knowledge of any NU students displaced by a foreclosed apartment who were applying for on-campus housing mid-year.

Associated Student Government External Relations Director Jilian Lopez said improving off-campus housing resources for NU students is a “top priority.” She said ASG hopes to create a more comprehensive off-campus housing Web site with information on available apartments and contact information for landlords.

“There are so many variables involved; a lot of students go into (the search for off-campus housing) blindly and don’t know much about the process except from their friends,” she said.

The search for off-campus housing is already very frustrating for some students, the Weinberg junior said, but she has not been approached by any students facing a foreclosed rental.

“If there are students living in a foreclosed residence, it’s definitely a big issue,” Lopez said. “If students run into this, hopefully ASG can be a resource – we’re hoping to help them work with landlords to find alternative housing somewhere in case that does happen.”

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