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.
Regular readers of RSI’s Just Court ADR blog will recall that RSI has been operating an eviction mediation program in Kane County, Illinois. This program launched in May 2021. We thought now would be a good time to check in on the outcomes to date, and talk a little bit about our experience running the program thus far.
Kane County is in west suburban Chicago and is home to the second largest city in Illinois. The Kane County Eviction Mediation Program launched after about nine months of development. While the process to mobilize a new program usually takes upward of a year, the looming urgency of an eviction crisis called for an expedited rollout. Within that window, we developed all the court rules, procedures and forms which the program would need to operate. We also recruited a cadre of mediators, and provided them specialized eviction mediation training through our friends at the Center for Conflict Resolution.
Most critical to the development process, we also utilized this time to collaborate with the Circuit Court of Kane County and a number of partners about how this program would operate once it went live. From studying other successful models, we knew that a holistic approach which connected parties with rental assistance, legal aid, financial counseling and other support services would make a big difference. We convened regular meetings with the Court, legal aid entities, housing counselors and the plaintiffs’ bar to devise a program model that could offer parties access to these services efficiently prior to mediation.
To make this idea a reality, we knew it would take dedicated program staff who could handle intake, triage, scheduling mediations and troubleshooting unforeseen issues as they arose. As we have written about in our Guide to Program Success, programs without day-to-day oversight will be hard-pressed to be successful long-term. In considering the numbers below, recognize that these sort of outcomes are possible because we have been fortunate to have a full-time program coordinator – who is quite exceptional! – along with a support team, amounting to about another full-time staff person.
By the Numbers
The following data is accurate as of February 14, 2022.
- We’ve enrolled 270 households in the program. The vast majority of these, about 75%, came after Illinois lifted its moratorium on residential evictions at the beginning of October 2021. In the Kane County program, if the tenant wants to participate in mediation, the landlord is required to also participate. The eviction judge also has the authority to order cases into the mediation program.
- We’ve held about 160 mediation sessions in 130 unique cases. Not all cases will end up going through to mediation. Some parties will be able to access rental assistance or come to an alternative agreement in between the time they enroll in the program (usually at or following their first court appearance) and when mediation would be scheduled (typically about 3-4 weeks, in advance of the 30-day continuance that was offered to many parties by the judge). In other cases, some tenants unfortunately drop off and don’t return our attempts to contact them, at which point their case is closed in the program; a number of these tenants vacate the premises in hopes of avoiding judgment.
- The program has about a 2/3 agreement rate for cases it has mediated. We’ve helped almost 50 people remain in their homes; we’ve helped nearly 60 additional people reach agreement with their landlord to move out and move on without an eviction on their record. These outcomes highlight that keeping the tenant in the unit is not feasible in every situation, but there are other incentives for tenants to seek out agreement, such as bargaining for more time to find alternative housing, or mitigating some of the arrearages owed.
- We’ve been able to make at least 116 referrals to rental assistance, 116 to legal aid, and 120 to housing services (some households receive multiple referrals). As we envisioned, the program is acting as a central hub to provide parties access to support services. We are always looking out for ways to expand upon this, such as mental health and wellness services, resources for self-represented landlords and additional housing support, for which demand always seems to exceed supply.
These numbers are a snapshot of how the program is operating, and it is not meant for definitive conclusions to be drawn without more rigorous analysis. But we thought it would be of interest to many of you to share our experience running this program thus far and what we’ve been able to achieve. We will be sharing more data in the months to come, and if you haven’t seen our previously published report on the program’s survey data, we encourage you to check that out as well.
Tags: AAA-ICDR Evictions