Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
With mortgage foreclosure levels historically high and expected to go higher, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is asking county court officials to consider developing foreclosure mediation programs.
These programs typically involve court-supervised efforts to resolve foreclosure cases through negotiations between homeowners who are delinquent on mortgage payments and mortgage lenders. Courts retain their impartiality in such programs as the needs of lenders and borrowers are met through mediation.
Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille has encouraged the president judges of all county courts of common pleas to send representatives to a summit of court leaders on foreclosure mediation at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg on October 14, 2010.
“Reports indicate that the foreclosure rate will get worse before it gets better,” Chief Justice Castille said. “Several of Pennsylvania’s courts have taken the lead in addressing this issue through the use of conciliation conferences between homeowners and lenders. This summit will allow court leaders to assess those issues county-by-county.”
Zygmont A. Pines, Court Administrator of Pennsylvania, said that high mortgage delinquency rates in the Commonwealth may foreshadow a new wave of mortgage foreclosure filings.
At least one recent study found more than 10 percent of subprime mortgages to be seriously delinquent in wide swaths of Pennsylvania. The study also found an increasing trend in delinquency of all types of mortgages around the state.
“Mortgage foreclosure mediation programs have proven successful in diverting these cases from overloaded court dockets, saving families’ homes and helping lenders avoid the need to foreclose and take possession of property,” Pines said. “If we are facing a rising tide of foreclosures, we want our courts to be prepared to deal effectively with the problem in everyone’s best interests.”
Philadelphia’s nationally-acclaimed foreclosure mediation program was the first in Pennsylvania. Since it began in 2008, at least 2,400 foreclosure cases have been successfully resolved through conferences and negotiations between lenders and home-owners with housing counselors and volunteer lawyers assisting. Most of the homeowners in those cases have been able to keep their homes, usually under some form of renegotiated mortgage agreement.
Mediation programs are also operating in Allegheny, Blair, Bucks, Butler, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Lycoming and Northampton counties.
The October 14 summit will feature a discussion on different types of mediation programs currently operating in Pennsylvania, recognizing that no one program type will necessarily work in every county. Mortgage delinquency trends and an assessment of the scope of the foreclosure problem in Pennsylvania also will be discussed. Other topics will include success rates of mediation programs, data collection and statistics, and identifying resources for foreclosure mediation programs.
Planning for the summit is being led by Judge Edward D. Reibman, who supervises Lehigh County’s mediation program. Judges Annette M. Rizzo, of Philadelphia; Joseph M. James and Michael E. McCarthy, of Allegheny County, and Chester Harhut, of Lackawanna County, also will participate, as will representatives of the legal assistance and lending communities, the Reinvestment Fund and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
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