The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recently announced it was ending its eviction moratorium and has now extended it to October 3 for counties with “substantial and high levels” of coronavirus transmission. Whether now or in the future, many people in need will face eviction and the prospect of homelessness.
Avoiding Homelessness Is Key
When a person becomes homeless, it becomes exponentially more difficult for her to care for her family, find and maintain a job, and do many other things to become self-reliant. For example, a person who is homeless doesn’t sleep as well at night, doesn’t have an accessible shower and laundry facilities, and may lose access to the Internet. All of these factors make it much more difficult to apply for jobs and look presentable at job interviews. Being homeless can also lead to many challenges with health and safety.
As we’ve seen in Utah, trying to help people who are homeless get back on their feet can be difficult and cost tens of millions of dollars. As a result, it is much better for both taxpayers and for people in need to provide assistance before a person becomes homeless.
Eviction Mediation Can Help
With eviction mediation, a landlord who wants to evict a tenant meets with the tenant and a mediator to see if they can work out a solution that avoids eviction. For instance, the landlord could agree to forgive rent due with a stipulation that the tenant pay rent on time moving forward, or the landlord and tenant could agree to a payment plan that allows the tenant to catch up on rent gradually. A neutral mediator’s job is to try to balance the interests of both parties and come up with an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to the landlord and tenant and allows the tenant to stay in his home.
Another benefit of eviction diversion programs is that if a mediator is unable to work out an agreement between the landlord and tenant, then program staff can help point the tenant to other possible resources to avoid homelessness, such as rent assistance and legal assistance available through non-profits and government.
Eviction Diversion Programs Have Been Successful
The Third District Court in Salt Lake County operates a landlord-tenant mediation program that allows for mediation services either before or after eviction court proceedings have begun. Other successful eviction diversion programs have been operating in places like Michigan, Richmond, VA, and Chicago, IL. (See here and here).
Utah should consider expanding its eviction mediation services to other counties while also identifying other ways it can prevent homelessness before it occurs. For example, it could require landlords to give tenants they plan to evict notice of available rent assistance, legal aid, and other assistance before filing an eviction case in court, as is sometimes required before mortgage foreclosures. Utah could also consider making mediation mandatory before filing an eviction action in court, which could help prevent a good number of cases from needing to be filed.
Utah should do whatever it can to prevent homelessness before it happens. Keeping people in need in their homes will make it much easier for them to become and remain self-reliant while also staying safer and healthier. It will also save taxpayers money and reduce the burden on our courts and other services.