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Holistic Approach to Eviction Mediation Proves Successful in Kane County, Illinois

Jennifer Shack, November 16th, 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.

As readers may remember, the 16th Judicial Circuit in Kane County, Illinois, launched its eviction mediation program in May 2021, with RSI as the program administrator. The program approaches the resolution of eviction cases holistically, with referrals to financial counseling and legal services as well as mediation. Mediations are conducted primarily via Zoom, with some in-person mediation permitted. As part of the AAA-ICDR Foundation grant, RSI Research Associate Dee Williams and I evaluated the program’s performance during its first year. The evaluation included program use, services provided, mediation outcomes and participant experience. The evaluation revealed a program that is succeeding on all metrics.

We found that the program had a high rate of referral, with 578 (42%) of the 1,392 eligible tenants making contact with the program coordinator after being referred by the judge. Almost two-thirds of tenants who accessed the program were referred to housing counseling, rental assistance and legal assistance. Not all cases required mediation, and some cases scheduled for mediation did not take place; thus, 388 (28%) of eligible cases were mediated. Of these, 74% resulted in an agreement that avoided eviction, which translated into eviction being avoided through mediation in 20% of all cases filed.

Overall Positive Experiences

In post-mediation surveys, both landlords and tenants in general indicated they had a good experience in mediation: 61% said they were highly likely to recommend mediation to a friend. They also indicated they experienced procedural justice, with 73% indicating the mediator treated them extremely fairly and 80% indicating they were treated with very much respect. Their perception of whether they were able to talk about what was important to them was lower, however, with 54% rating this highly. Attorneys were more likely to rate their experience highly overall: 71% were highly likely to recommend mediation to a colleague.

The one area of concern is that 19% of parties who responded to the survey wrote comments indicating they believed the mediator was biased or not active enough in helping them resolve their dispute, which equaled the percentage who wrote positive comments about the mediators’ fairness and helpfulness. RSI is investigating this further, with the hopes of identifying whether certain mediators may need further training.

Access, Tech Use Examined

We also asked survey respondents how they accessed the video mediation, whether they needed to borrow a mobile phone or computer from someone, whether they had to leave their home to attend the mediation, and whether they had any technical difficulties. Approximately 6 in 10 tenants used a mobile phone to participate, and almost everyone else used a personal computer. Our sample is very likely biased, as those who have ready access to the internet would be more likely to respond to the survey; nevertheless, we found that only 2 of 49 respondents borrowed a device and three went to someone else’s home. Five attended from work. Ten of 56 respondents indicated there were technical issues during their mediation. These included problems connecting, bad connections, people getting disconnected and someone’s microphone not working.

Support Breeds Success

When I interviewed the judge and program staff for an implementation report on the program, I found the judge was very supportive of the program and that both he and program staff believed landlord and attorney buy-in was essential to the success of the program. The evaluation indicates that the judge’s support was instrumental to the program’s high rate of referral and that landlords and attorneys who completed surveys generally had favorable opinions of the program. These both support the general belief that both judicial support and party buy-in are necessary characteristics of successful programs.

New Reports Describe Successes, Challenges in Launch of Eviction Mediation Programs in Illinois’ Kankakee, Winnebago Counties

Jennifer Shack, September 19th, 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.

In late 2021, the 17th Circuit and 21st Circuit courts of Illinois launched eviction mediation programs with RSI assistance. RSI now administers the programs remotely. I had the pleasure of interviewing the judges and program administrators involved in the planning and implementation of the programs. The purpose was to help other courts interested in starting eviction mediation programs by better understanding how the programs work and the challenges and successes they experienced during the planning phase and post-launch. The resulting reports for the 17th Circuit and 21st Circuit are now available.

Photo by eskay lim via Unsplash

Both programs started with the same program design and initially relied on the same program coordinator, who administered the programs remotely with the help of an assistant. For both programs, the program coordinator or the program assistant attended court calls remotely so that when the judge referred cases to the program, they could obtain party contact information and other case details that would help them to administer the program. Parties had access to rental assistance, and mediation was held via Zoom by paid mediators. The programs got off to a slow start but have begun to see more referrals.

17th Circuit Program

The 17th Circuit program, serving Winnebago County, launched in September 2021, but started seeing regular referrals in January. The mediation program was conceived as a partner service to rental assistance.[1] Winnebago County had the benefit of two agencies that could process rental assistance applications quickly and that could have representatives present at the court call. Because rental assistance was readily available to most tenants, the judge decided to refer cases to rental assistance first, then authorize mediation for cases in which the assistance was denied. 

Initially, the program coordinator did not have an easy way to follow up with the tenants to see if they had been approved for rental assistance and whether they wanted to mediate. Seeing an opportunity for the program to do more, the court and RSI decided to have the program coordinator help move tenants through the rental assistance application process. She now follows up with tenants to be sure they have applied for rental assistance and helps get them in contact with a rental assistance agency if not. This helps her to identify cases that need mediation and to schedule them for mediation if the tenants agree to participate.

Lessons Learned

Coordination with program partners may improve buy-in

RSI did not have the staff capacity to take on the role of coordinating program partner communications and needs during program development. According to RSI’s associate director, this resulted in more landlord resistance to the program than in another circuit whose eviction mediation program RSI helped develop. In that program, there was ongoing communication among the program partners, and their perspectives were incorporated into the program rules and process. There, attorneys for landlords and tenants, as well as representatives from the rental assistance agencies and court staff, met regularly before program launch to discuss program development and after the program launched to discuss any issues with the program and its processes.

Communication is essential

The program coordinator and the program assistant both indicated that the open communication with both rental assistance agencies is essential to the smooth running of the program and to ensuring that those who need mediation are offered the opportunity. Communication with the judge is also necessary. The judge initially referred cases to mediation based on a narrow set of criteria. The program coordinator and the program manager have been discussing with the judge the benefits of mediation in other circumstances.

Judge support is key

The judge promotes use of the program both by informing the parties of the resources available to them and strongly encouraging parties to attend mediation.

Tenants need help obtaining rental assistance

Not all tenants are capable of navigating the process of obtaining rental assistance, particularly in the short time frame required by the court’s eviction process. The program coordinator has found that she often needs to explain to tenants what they must do to apply and to follow up to be sure they do so in a timely manner. In addition, she often must explain to tenants what the status of their application is, because they do not always understand their situation.

Good program administration is important

The judge indicated that the program coordinator’s follow-up with tenants about their efforts to obtain rental assistance has helped to move parties through the application process. The program coordinator indicated that this case management has allowed her to identify cases suitable for mediation and has led to more cases being mediated.

It’s helpful to meet with landlords before program launch

The judge noted that outreach to landlords helped to assuage landlords’ fears about the program, reducing resistance to it.

The mediation program may need to evolve

The program may not work the way originally planned, or the original plan may not lead to the most effective provision of services. In this case, the judge’s desire to wait to mediate cases until after rental assistance was denied led to a need to reconfigure the program coordinator’s role.

21st Circuit Program

The 21st Circuit program, serving Kankakee County, launched in December 2021 but saw its first referrals in March 2022. In the 21st Circuit, the reasons for the slow start were complicated. The judge, who was assigned to hear evictions after the program planning phase, was supportive of mediation but had a narrow view of which cases were appropriate. Further, there was no funding for the program during the planning phase, so RSI did not have the staff to engage with stakeholders to get their input and their buy-in. This may have played a role in resistance to mediation among the plaintiff’s bar.

The mediation program was conceived as a partner service to rental assistance,[2] with parties having access to both at the same time. The judge was given the authority by local court rule to order cases to mediation, which she uses when she believes referral to mediation is warranted. Though the court and its partners did not integrate rental assistance with mediation, in practice, the judge refers cases to mediation when she determines the tenants do not know about the resources available to them. The program coordinator has thus taken on the role of helping self-represented tenants, who make up the vast majority of defendants, navigate the rental assistance process. The rental assistance agency has been less involved in the program than the agencies in the 17th Circuit, and has determined that it cannot inform the program coordinator of the status of rental assistance applications due to privacy concerns. This has made it more difficult to help tenants, and mediations often take place without knowledge of whether the tenants have been approved for rental assistance. 

Lessons Learned

Many of the lessons learned were similar to those for the 17th Circuit, but for different reasons.

Coordination with program partners may improve buy-in

Because of a lack of funding during program planning, RSI was understaffed and could not take on the role of coordinating program partner communications and needs. According to the associate director, this resulted in more landlord resistance to the program than in another judicial circuit, in which there was ongoing communication among the program partners and the incorporation of program partner perspectives into the program rules and process.

It helps to remain flexible

The mediation program went through some growing pains, and both the court and the program coordinator needed to figure out how to best work together and to best manage cases. This effort is ongoing but appears to be bearing fruit.

Communication is essential

Lack of communication with the court led to a slow rollout of the program. This has changed as communication has improved. Lack of communication with the rental assistance agency has made it more difficult to assist tenants and to reach agreements in mediation.

Judge support is key

Although the eviction judge came onto the bench after the program had been planned, and therefore needed some time to acclimate to the mediation program, she believes there is a place for mediation in eviction cases. This has led to a greater number of referrals as time has passed.

Good program administration is important

The judge relies on the program coordinator to help tenants navigate resources and to gain access to rental assistance. This has broadened the scope of the position and has required greater case management skills. 


[1] State and federal funds have been made available that provide eligible tenants up to $25,000 to pay past and future rent. The county disburses the funds, which are sent directly to the landlord.

[2] State and federal funds have been made available that provide eligible tenants up to $25,000 to pay past and future rent. The county disburses the funds, which are sent directly to the landlord.

Significant Participation, Agreement Levels Highlight Potential of ODR for Family Cases

Jennifer Shack, August 31st, 2022

University of California, Davis, Professor Donna Shestowsky and I recently had the pleasure of conducting the first neutral evaluation of any family law court online dispute resolution (ODR) program in the United States. The program was launched by the 20th Circuit of Michigan’s Friend of the Court (FOC) in August 2020 with the goal of providing parties with post-judgment family law disputes a simpler, more convenient and cost-effective way to reach agreements related to child custody, parenting time and child support. It also aimed to increase efficiency in the disposition of these matters. By and large, we found that the program was providing the benefits the FOC hoped it would.

What We Studied

The FOC used Matterhorn’s text-based ODR platform, which allows participants to communicate with each other and their caseworker via asynchronous text messages and document exchanges. We used case data, ODR data, pre- and post-process party surveys, and staff interviews to gain insight into:

  • Parties’ expectations for the ODR process at the time it was offered to them, and their views on a video mediation alternative
  • ODR access, including the percentage of parties who participated and opted out, information about ODR available to parties, and parties’ capacity to use ODR
  • Participants’ evaluation of their experience of ODR in terms of procedural justice, satisfaction, fairness of the process, and ability to control the outcome of their matter
  • Parties’ impressions of the FOC and the other party
  • The agreement rates, hearing rates, and efficiency (time to disposition, caseworker time spent on matters) associated with ODR use
  • Direct costs and the FOC’s staff members’ perceptions of the effect of ODR on their work

Excitement and Anxiety

We found that before ODR, parties tended to be confident they could reach agreement, but the majority did not believe the other party would be truthful. They expressed high levels of excitement about using ODR, but also high levels of anxiety. Those who were planning on using it were twice as likely to report a high level of fear of the other party as those who weren’t sure they would, or who were not going to, use ODR.

Because of the platform’s technological limitations, caseworkers did not offer ODR to parties who had attorneys, those who had limited English proficiency, or to those who were blind or visually impaired. In addition, the FOC had decided that those who had a history of a high level of conflict would not benefit from ODR, and they were therefore not offered the opportunity.

Uptake Higher than for Other ODR

Almost half of the parties who were offered the chance to use ODR did so, which was high compared with other early ODR programs, which have had participation rates of 21% to 36%. In half the cases in which ODR was offered but not used, at least one of the parties simply did not register to use it despite the FOC’s intent to require its use. We noted that the emails sent to the parties informing them to register for ODR used language that could have confused the parties both about what the program was and their requirement to participate.  We also found that parties lacked an understanding of the main features of the program. This, too could have reduced program use.

A surprising finding was that almost all parties who used ODR accessed the platform with their mobile phone at least part of the time. Only 8% exclusively accessed the platform with a computer, while 71% only used their mobile phone. This indicates that the platform and any auxiliary activities, such as communications to the parties and agreement forms, must be optimized for phones.

When parties used ODR, they were four times as likely to give high ratings for fairness of the process as those who did not use ODR (50% vs. 12.5%), and twice as likely to give high ratings for satisfaction (50% vs. 25%). They were also much more likely to reach agreement than those who were offered ODR but didn’t use it (59% vs. 11%). In cases involving child support, parties using the online platform reached resolution nearly twice as fast as those who did not.

Positive, with Room for Improvement

Our evaluation indicates that the FOC’s ODR program has provided parties with a positive experience, improves agreement rates and reduces time to resolution for some cases. Program use is high in comparison with other programs.

However, our analysis suggests that the FOC could do more to educate parties about the program, direct parties to use it, and increase access to parties with disabilities as well as those who need an interpreter’s assistance to use the platform. The FOC should also explore ways to reduce access barriers for those identified by caseworkers as less likely to use or benefit from the program because they have lawyer representation or have high-conflict relationships. Attempts to reduce access barriers should also be directed at those who lack digital literacy and those who would use their mobile phone to access the platform. Our evaluation was limited by a small survey and case data sample size, which may have obscured statistical significance of some findings and did not allow us to conduct more detailed analyses of participant experience. We are looking forward to seeing more evaluations of ODR programs conducted, to build on our findings.  

Lessons Learned from the Implementation of a Video Eviction Mediation Program in Uncertain Times

Jennifer Shack, May 12th, 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.

I recently had the pleasure of writing a report on the development and implementation of the eviction mediation program in Kane County, Illinois. While the State of Illinois had an eviction moratorium in place, and in anticipation of a surge of cases when the moratorium was lifted, the court asked RSI to develop and administer the program. By all accounts, the program had a successful rollout. During the program’s first six months, referred parties and attorneys displayed an openness to mediation, the vast majority of parties and lawyers who took the post-mediation survey indicated they had a positive experience, and 54 of 81 mediations (67%) resulted in an agreement.

For the report, I interviewed individuals who played a large role in the development and implementation of the program, including the judge, the program partners and the program coordinator. We discussed their aspirations for the program, the steps taken to develop and implement the program, the program process, and program challenges and keys to success.

Universally, the interviewees pointed to five keys to the program’s success:

  • Strong court interest in the project
  • The support of the eviction judge
  • Good communication among the program partners
  • Good administration
  • Buy-in from landlords and their attorneys

The Program

The mediation program was conceived as a point of contact for multiple services to helptenants and landlords navigate the court process, obtain financial assistance, and address housing issues. It was designed within the following context:

  • The courthouse was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • The widely held expectation that evictions would surge when the moratorium on evictions ended, with the demand for mediation rising significantly as well
  • Significant rental relief (funds to help tenants pay their back and future rent) was available
  • Tenants and landlords needed to know whether rental relief would be provided to them in order to reach an agreement
  • The eviction process needed to keep moving forward while rental relief and mediation options were being sought
  • Almost all tenants in eviction cases are self-represented, as are some landlords
  • There was the potential for external funding for mediation

This context meant that the program needed to be a remote process, with cases triaged quickly and referred for other services prior to mediation. Anticipating a large number of cases, the program required a large number of mediators. RSI and the court therefore designed the program as a free, multi-step process with a full-time coordinator, legal aid and financial counseling partners, and paid mediators, all of which was possible due to the availability of multiple sources of external funding.

Lessons Learned

The individuals I interviewed outlined the multiple challenges they confronted in developing and implementing the program. The lessons they learned from working through those challenges are outlined below.

Flexibility is required, particularly when confronting uncertainty.

The program was planned while three main factors affecting that planning were very uncertain: the number of cases that would be filed, what level of funding would be available and when the predicted surge in cases would begin. These circumstances required the program partners to remain flexible during the planning phase in terms of when to ramp up their services, and it required RSI to react to the changing landscape of cases after the program launched. The ability to change procedures and to increase capacity have been essential to the continued provision of mediation to all parties interested in participating.

Communication among the stakeholders is essential.

During both the planning phase and after program launch, continued communication allowed program partners to plan and to set up efficient mechanisms for referrals. It essentially helped them to be flexible. It also served as a point of exchange of information regarding other types of services available to tenants and landlords, which helped program partners open more doors for their clients.

Judicial support is key.

The program can only function if the judges support it both by educating the parties about the resources available to them and by either strongly encouraging or requiring the parties to attend mediation. When tenants are educated about the benefits of mediation, they are more likely to want to participate.

Landlord and/or landlord attorney buy-in is required.

It is important to get the perspective of the landlords during the planning phase and to address their concerns. If the landlords and/or their attorneys do not see the value of mediation to them, they will not participate or, if ordered to, will not participate fully. Note that it is also essential to obtain the perspective of the tenants; their concerns and interests were presented by Prairie State Legal Services.

Provision of services is time-intensive.

The program was originally designed with the program coordinator (PC) conducting an intake with each party who came to her during the court hearings, letting them know about the services available and making referrals on the spot. This became untenable when the number of cases per hearing date rose to 40 or 50 and RSI found that information exchange with parties took longer than expected. To provide this kind of service would require more than one or two people. The PC, therefore, shifted to obtaining contact information from each interested party and then following up after court.

RSI’s program partners had similar challenges keeping up with demand. According to the director of program partner the Aurora Financial Empower Center (FEC), the FEC’s three counselors would not be able to assist all tenants who required help if the number of cases surged too high. Legal aid program partner Prairie State Legal Services similarly did not have the staff required to help all eligible tenants seeking their services. All of this suggests that further resources are required to provide the optimal level of service for all those who need it.

Good program administration is important.

The program coordinator’s skillful management of the program has been a key to the program’s success. Her organizational skills and development of efficient processes have made the program run smoothly.


Many thanks to the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation for its support of the evaluation of the eviction mediation program, of which the implementation report is a part. Many thanks as well, to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation for its support of the eviction mediation program.

Go to RSI’s website to read the full report.

Survey Data Indicates Eviction Mediation Program Offers Procedural Justice

Jennifer Shack, March 9th, 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.

Last year, RSI and the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Kane County, Illinois, launched a new mediation program to address eviction cases. In this program, parties are informed of the program when they receive their summons and are invited to participate when they arrive for their initial hearing. If they decide to participate, they meet with the program coordinator, who informs them of their options, including meeting with a financial counselor and/or a legal services representative. The coordinator then schedules the mediation on a date prior to the next hearing. Mediation takes place via Zoom. Between June 2021 and early January 2022, the program mediated 81 disputes.

After each mediation, parties and attorneys are invited by email to complete a survey online about their experience. From the first 81 cases, 28 participants responded, including 6 tenants, 2 landlords and 20 attorneys. While this is a small sample size from which to draw definitive conclusions, their responses indicate the program is offering participants a positive experience in mediation.

The tenants, landlords and attorneys all gave favorable ratings to their experience in mediation. 89% indicated they would recommend mediation to a friend or colleague. 93% rated fairness of the process highly. All but one said they could express what was important to them during the mediation. When commenting about what they liked about the mediation, they most often said something positive about the mediator. A few also commented on the convenience of the process.

RSI has published these findings in a brief report available on our website. We are grateful to the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation’s support for our ongoing evaluation of the program and the dissemination of the findings, and to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, whose support has enabled us to operate this mediation program. We look forward to sharing more information with you as the program evolves.