Cook County officials have unveiled an initiative to provide free legal aid and mediation services to help landlords and residents resolve eviction, foreclosure, debt and tax deed issues.

The announcement comes after state and federal bans on evictions expired over the weekend and with a state supreme court imposed rule barring entry of eviction judgments by circuit courts scheduled to run out at the end of this month.

At a news conference Monday morning County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the Cook County Legal Aid for Housing and Debt program will provide through a network of community partners, free legal assistance, counseling, pre-court mediation, case management and connections to resources for residents, landlords, creditors, debtors — all who are dealing with an array of issues surrounding housing and debt.

She said landlords and tenants may be able to apply for up to $25,000 in rental assistance for unpaid rent and said Cook County Legal Aid will provide free legal help for county residents facing eviction, foreclosure and similar issues. The hotline for the program is 855-956-5763.

Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, said that under the program free legal help is available to small landlords as well as tenants.

Glaves said Chicago Volunteer Legal Services is available to provide help to landlords and will have an eviction checklist available on its website at later today.

Glaves said the checklist explains why landlords are better off trying mediation alternatives before filing an eviction case.

“We know a lot of landlords are feeling at the end of their rope right now, many have not been paid for almost 18 months at this point.” Glaves said. “But every time, if its really about nonpayment, a landlord is going to be better off trying to resolve this before court happens.”

“When it calls all the way to eviction, nobody wins — not the landlord, not the tenant, not the community,” Glaves added.

Al Belmonte, owner of Wesley Realty in Evanston, tells Evanston Now’s Jeff Hirsh that eviction is “the last resort” for a landlord, who generally will try to come up with a solution for tenants who are behind on their rent.

“If folks are responding and working with us we will work out a payment plan,” he says.

Belmonte says the mediation program announced by Cook County is a good idea.

“Landlords don’t want to evict anyone,” he says.

A national study of households based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey indicates 16% of households in Cook County are behind on their rent and that their rent debt totals nearly $500 million. Similar data at the municipal level apparently is not currently available.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.