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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 4, 200912:00 PM EST

City searches for best way to reach changing face of foreclosure

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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Staff Writer

The Jacksonville community took another step toward helping the area veer away from path of becoming the “Foreclosure Capitol of the U.S.”

“That’s not a position we want to be in from a (public relations) standpoint,” said City Council member Kevin Hyde. “More importantly, it’s not a position we want to be in from a community standpoint.”

Hyde hosted the second foreclosure summit at the Main Library Tuesday to continue to bring members of the real estate, banking, nonprofit, legal and judicial communities together in an effort to help the thousands of people facing foreclosure in the area.

“We want your ideas on how we can help with this problem,” said Hyde. “Some of the responses may be legislative, that’s why I’m here. Some of them may be administrative. Wight Greger, the director of the City’s Director of Housing and Neighborhoods, is here and some of them may be judicial, and we have U.S. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Paul Glenn and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Funk will answer those questions.”

One of the first questions the group of about 40 people tried to answer was what is the best way to reach people in foreclosure before they are called into court. Offering informational seminars to educate people on foreclosures and the help that is available was one way the group thought to get the word out. But a problem is getting in the way of people getting the right help.

“One of the things you are going to have to deal with is there are people who don’t want other people to know that they are in foreclosure or they are suffering financially,” said Chip Parker, an attorney with Parker & DuFresne who also works with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in defense of foreclosures. “How effective is a seminar going to be if no one wants to go?”

Identifying how to get the information out to the public and who would most benefit were two issues that were difficult to identify.

“We are not just seeing people of low income come through the door,” said Kathleen Shaw of Community Foundation in Jacksonville. “For the first time, we are seeing educated, professional people who have lost everything in need of help. People who were once donors are now in need of our services.”

One of the items the group put on its “wish list” was a Web page on the City site (www.coj.net) or a separate site that listed information on foreclosure and the help available for the public. A few items the group agreed on was that most people have an e-mail address and access to the Internet, so an Internet presence was looked at as a way to get information out to a large part of the population.

“I know clients that are broke, but still have Internet access,” said Parker.

Another item that was discussed for the “wish list” was more pro bono attorneys trained in handling foreclosures. Jacksonville received 8,711 foreclosure filings from April to December in 2008 and 832 of those were sold.

“We keep hearing 1,000 foreclosures a month, that’s probably a low number. These are 1,000 people a month in the process of losing their home and certainly (Jacksonville Area Legal Aid) is inundated. Fortunately, Legal Aid is not the only lawyers in town,” said Michael Figgins, executive director of JALA. “There are approximately 3,000 members of the Jacksonville Bar Association (JBA), all of whom are potential lawyers, potential advocates for people facing foreclosure.

What we need is almost a community response from the bar, almost like a military draft. I don’t know how you could do that. (JALA attorney) April (Charney) has trained hundreds of attorneys already, but there are thousands out there still to be trained.

Jacksonville Bar Association President Joe Camerlengo said his organization has and will continue their efforts to help with the foreclosure problem in Jacksonville.

“The Jacksonville Bar Association is very proud of the efforts of our attorney members and employees of their various law firms who donate their time, talents and/or money to helping those in need during these very difficult economic times,” he said. “The Jacksonville Bar Association and our members recognize the large increase in foreclosures and are being proactive to fight this problem in Northeast Florida. We look forward to meeting with Mr. Figgins in the near future to discuss any additional programs or suggestions he may have for members of the Jacksonville Bar Association.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Charney has instructed members of the Jacksonville Bar Association. The nationally recognized foreclosure expert taught a group of over 100 JBA members in January and is scheduled to do so again in April.

“It takes about eight hours for the training, but a lot come back for remedial work because it is a difficult practice,” said Charney. “We try to match recently trained lawyers with a mentor that has been through the program to help with questions or problems they may face.”

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