A Look Into the Early Resolution Program

April 29, 2021

by CARPLS Legal Aid

“Amanda” was experiencing a pending eviction and was having difficulty getting answers. Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created economic and social turmoil in Cook County, affecting thousands of people like Amanda.

Given the high probability of a flood of evictions and consumer debt actions, the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Chicago Department of Housing, the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Chicago Bar Association, legal aid and government representatives, and community partners developed The Early Resolution Program (ERP).

ERP includes free legal aid, mediation services, and connections to other resources, including rental assistance. ERP is being provided through Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt (CCLAHD) hotline, a county-wide initiative to help resolve eviction, foreclosure, debt, and tax deed issues.

With knowledge of this program, Amanda called the hotline and spoke to a CARPLS attorney who gave her legal advice and ultimately referred her to a partner organization that specializes in helping clients with disabilities. Amanda said, “CARPLS and the ERP hotline were very professional and gave me the information that I needed. They gave me an amazing referral. Thank you.”

Without ERP, evictions and unresolved debt issues can have a long-lasting, negative impact on Cook County residents’ future. This program was designed so that all residents of Cook County can access this resource free of charge, and there is no need to have a case in court to get help. If COVID-19 has affected their legal issues, they are also welcome to access the program.

“The ERP is unique in that it provides access to services both before and during court,” says Samira Nazem, the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Associate Director of Advocacy & Programs. “Our goal is to make sure that everyone in Cook County struggling to navigate a housing or financial issue has the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Since not everyone knows to call legal aid before court, we are bringing case managers, mediators, and legal aid resources right into the virtual courtroom to make sure no one is slipping through the cracks.”

Cook County residents can use ERP if:

  • they are a renter and their landlord is trying to evict;
  • they are a landlord who is not represented by a lawyer;
  • they were sued by someone who wants to collect an unpaid debt (for example a credit card company trying to collect unpaid charges); OR
  • they need to sue someone who owes them money and do not have a lawyer.

Our CARPLS attorneys on the ERP hotline will determine eligibility through a consultation, explaining the ERP project in general, making referrals to other ERP partners, and including possible mediation and settlement. And because of its government funding, ERP will have access to real-time language translation over the phone.

Pat Wrona, CARPLS Director of Legal Services, says eviction cases can be litigated very quickly, and tenants get very little time to explain their legal position in court.

“The ERP project taps the brakes on eviction, giving the tenant a chance to try and work things out with the landlord. In this time of COVID, it’s in everyone’s interests to avoid evictions. With rental assistance now available for financial help, the ERP allows the parties a meaningful chance to settle. Settlements can get the landlord the rent that is due, and can keep the tenant in their home during this health crisis with an eviction off their ‘record.’ As a legal aid community, we have long hoped for the eviction process to include a required first step of mediation and settlement, and now the ERP project is showing how successful that step can be, for all the parties involved.”

CARPLS’ ERP partners include Legal Aid Chicago, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Center for Disability & Elder Law, Center for Conflict Resolution, Legal Aid Society, Lawyers Committee for Better Housing, the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic, and Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services.

Lawyers and other legal professionals can also volunteer with ERP program partners to provide brief services to community members struggling with housing and debt problems.

Visit www.cookcountylegalaid.org for more information. Call 855-956-5763 for ERP services.

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