Baltazar Enriquez sits on his crumpled coat outside Room 802 at the Richard J. Daley Center to wait for his clients.
He will be here for an hour or three. There is a good chance he will return the next weekday, the one after that and so on.
His clients are immigrants and Latinos who cannot afford the $206 Cook County appearance fee required to respond to lawsuits by mortgage lenders foreclosing on their homes.
Failing to respond is like giving away the home to the lender.
“This step is so crucial,” Enriquez, 34, says. “If you don’t file your appearance within 30 days, you can’t speak to the judge. It’s like you don’t exist. The bank is hoping they don’t file it.”
Enriquez directs his clients to Legal Aid on the 13th floor and helps them fill out an application for a fee waiver. A judge approves the waiver and they deliver it to a staffer for Dorothy Brown, Clerk of the Circuit Court, in Room 802.
Every family member on the home’s title must file an appearance and pay the fee. Enriquez has helped the family save $618.
“There’s so much free help,” Enriquez says. “People don’t know about it.”
Enriquez doesn’t charge for counseling. Once his staff begins to work on a case, they request a donation for the organization he oversees on 26th Street in Little Village: Helping Others Progress Economically or HOPE.
He might get a $125 donation, or part of it, from this family. Maybe not, he says with a shrug, adding that some can afford to give more than others.
From the looks of his tiny, cramped office, he is far from rolling in dough. He makes his living as a property owner of three buildings, he says.
Since his late teens he has worked as a community organizer, with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and other nonprofits before starting HOPE in 2007 to offer seminars on landlord rights. When the mortgage crisis hit, requests for help on foreclosures poured in and he sought training from HUD.
Looking over mounds of paperwork the family he is helping has received, Enriquez estimates the family has about nine more months to work out a loan modification or move out. For now, they have secured more time.
Next the family will work with Norma Calderon, a self-taught expert in loss and mitigation at HOPE, where the phone rings incessantly. Anxious clients, many lacking English skills, want to know where they stand with the banks.
Calderon, 39, spent 17 years at Chase Bank before losing her job. She started working at HOPE as a secretary but quickly put her skills to work. Now her 18-year-old daughter is the secretary to complete a three-member team.
At the moment, Calderon feels good, recounting news of a mortgage forbearance agreement for a client on unemployment. The bank will not agree to a loan modification if someone is unemployed, she explains.
But Calderon worked with the bank to get a reduced monthly payment, from $2,515 to $650, for a year. By then, she says, they might qualify for a loan modification.
It’s a victory. Usually they play a waiting game. They submit documents for clients and send them again if loans are sold. There are several follow-up calls. Cases can drag on for years.
“Every time I get something approved,” Calderon says, “it’s like winning the grand prize.”