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Eviction Mediation Program Spotlight: Philadelphia

Eric Slepak-Cherney, January 31st, 2022

This article is part of a series of perspectives on eviction mediation program development that is being supported by the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation. The AAA-ICDR’s grant is enabling RSI to expand our outreach to court ADR colleagues working in the fast-evolving eviction field, and we are tremendously grateful to the Foundation for their support.

Launched in August 2020, the Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program stands out as an exemplary effort in this field.

In a city known for its famous underdog, Philadelphia’s eviction diversion program is trying to give folks a fighting chance. Image Credit: Todd van Hoosear via Flickr.


About the Program

City council legislation requires landlords to inform tenants of their rights and request mediation prior to filing an eviction claim in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. Additionally, prior to the city’s rental assistance program running out of funds, landlords were also required to apply to that program in an effort to mitigate their claims.

Mediations are administered by a community mediation partner, CORA Good Shepherd Mediation. The mediator roster consists of volunteer neutrals, including a number of mediators from JAMS.

Data from January 2021 indicated that the parties were able to reach an agreement that kept the tenant in the unit in about 70% of mediations. An additional 22% were able to agree on a different outcome, such as moving out, that avoided the tenant receiving an eviction on their record.

Last month, the city council passed legislation to extend the operation of the program through 2022. Additionally, the legislation provided for updating the required notice of diversion rights which tenants must receive, which now will include an updated ledger so the tenant knows the exact amount the landlord is seeking and how that total is derived. The program is also utilizing a web portal to expedite the disputes and give parties another mechanism to interact directly.

Things We Really Like About This Model

  • Rental assistance is the real lynchpin that makes eviction diversion possible. However, many jurisdictions we have heard from have faced challenges in making sure that parties know how to access that fund. By integrating it directly into the eviction dispute resolution process, the Philadelphia program greatly reduced the chance of parties missing that opportunity.
  • The ability/infrastructure to capture parties pre-filing lessens strain on the court system. Additionally, unless the jurisdiction has mechanisms to seal eviction filings in place, the filing itself could be tremendously detrimental to the tenant’s future housing prospects.
  • Requiring ledgers can bring much needed clarity to a dispute. Determining the exact amount owed and how that figure is calculated is a frequent focus in mediation, and making that document a necessity can provide parties a helpful reference to inform the conversation.
  • The new web portal is another nice engagement point that hopefully diverts further cases from eviction. Every dispute is unique, and not all of them will need full-blown mediation to help serve the parties. Giving parties some self-help tools to communicate, exchange information, and negotiate may be sufficient for some disputes.

Sources:

https://www.phila.gov/2020-08-31-philadelphia-launches-eviction-diversion-program/

https://evictioninnovation.org/2020/10/16/philadelphias-eviction-diversion-through-mediation-program/

https://www.axios.com/local/philadelphia/2022/01/11/philadelphia-eviction-diversion-program-changes

https://www.jamsadr.com/news/2021/hon-annette-m-rizzo-ret-and-the-philadelphia-eviction-diversion-program-featured-in-urban-institutes-report

https://www.urban.org/research/publication/eviction-prevention-and-diversion-programs-early-lessons-pandemic

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