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Foreclosure mediation help available

For the next year, banks and other mortgage facilitators may have an easier time communicating with Alabama homeowners under foreclosure.

Last year the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution received a $500,000 grant through Attorney General Luther Strange’s office. Strange’s office provided the grant as a part of the national mortgage settlement reached in 2012 between the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers and several state attorneys general

In April, the center held mortgage foreclosure training for its nearly 40 mediators and is preparing to put them to work.

The center’s director Judith Keegan said mediators provide a crucial service to Alabama residents, as homeowners only have 120 days in foreclosures before his or her house is taken.

“Mediators are facilitators of information and are a neutral party in negotiations,” Keegan said. “There is often a perceived power imbalance when you have a homeowner versus a bank or other mortgage facilitator. If communication breaks down then that 120-day timeline can move quickly.”

She said some homeowners choose not to respond to the bank or other mortgage facilitator during a foreclosure because of a crisis — sickness, divorce or a death in the family.

“How are you going to be able to talk about your house being taken away if your spouse has just died or your are sick and just can’t do it,” she said.

Mediators don’t charge a fee to mortgage facilitators or homeowners. Instead, the mediation process is paid for through the grant. The dispute resolution center’s program runs until April 30, 2015.

Mediators are located in 23 counties in Alabama, with only one located in Selma — Jana Garner, an attorney at Reeves and Stewart. Keegan said Garner is not Dallas County residents’ only resource as nearby mediators are willing to travel.

Dallas County may not have been the hardest hit by the mortgage foreclosure crisis — surrounding the 2008 recession — but Garner said mediation is just as important in the Selma area.

“As mediators, we facilitate communication so an informed decision can be made regarding a settlement,” Garner said. “The hope of the program is to aide lenders and homeowners so they both come out of the process satisfied.”

To find a mediator, visit alabamadr.org, click on find mediator in the top right corner and select foreclosure under area of practice.