Annette Rizzo: Judge Advocate

Utne Reader visionary

| November-December 2010

As the economic recovery sputters and coughs in idle and its mechanics poke around under the hood, millions of Americans stand stranded by the roadside—under- or unemployed, lurching from one fiscal crisis to the next.  

At the beginning of 2010, about 10 percent of all U.S. home owners with a mortgage were at least one month behind on payments, according to statistics compiled by the Mortgage Bankers Association, with the percentages far higher in some counties and among subprime mortgage holders. And the number of new foreclosures remains roughly double the rate of five years ago, according to the New York Federal Reserve.  

All of this serves as a backdrop to a successful foreclosure diversion program launched in 2008 and led by Annette Rizzo, a judge in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas. The simple premise of the plan is that lenders, before putting homes on the auction block, meet face-to-face with home owners. Pro bono attorneys, several hundred specially trained housing advocates, court officials, and Judge Rizzo herself are all on hand to help the interested parties reach agreements that keep people solvent and in their homes.  

“We’re saving homes one address at a time,” Rizzo tells Baltimore magazine Urbanite. At the weekly courtroom session, roughly 200 cases are heard, with participants on both sides of the aisle working to reduce interest rates and renegotiate contracts.  

According to the Washington Post, the Court of Common Pleas settled 2,000 foreclosure cases by the end of 2009. Other cities have since looked to Rizzo’s model to help their communities stay solvent. 


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