MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program
MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program offers free mediation services for housing and eviction matters referred from District and Municipal Courts where MWI is approved. The program aims to prevent displacement and homelessness by helping low-income tenants work towards acceptable and beneficial agreements with their landlords without the need for costly hearings by a judge.
Problem to Be Addressed
In Massachusetts, summary process is the legal proceeding for evicting people from their homes. In 2019, approximately 39,594 of these cases were heard throughout the state of Massachusetts . According to Housing Court statistics, plaintiffs – most often the landlord – were represented by counsel in an average of 73.8% of cases. Defendants – most often the tenant – were represented by counsel in only 11.7% of cases .
The rising number of families facing homelessness was reflected in the 40th Annual Homelessness Census conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission, which showed that the family homeless rate rose by 8.7% in 2020 . Some families are able to find a shelter or motel, but the instability takes a toll on their children’s emotional, physical, and academic well-being. Listing a shelter or motel as an address also hurts people who are searching for a new job – several census respondents cited that companies will not hire someone who lists a shelter or motel as their permanent address, which keeps people locked in a cycle of instability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more obstacles to housing access. The moratorium on evictions in the state of Massachusetts ended on October 17th, 2020. Until March 31st, 2021, only the federal moratorium is in effect for qualified individuals. Courts across the state will need to adapt in order to keep up with cases and adhere to public health guidelines. Virtual mediation has helped to relieve the pressure on Courts and to provide much needed resources for low-income parties with limited access to resources.
Participating in mediation, especially when parties are unrepresented, allows tenants and landlords more control over case outcomes. MWI’s mediators receive referrals from Court Clerks, then work virtually with landlords and tenants to identify and record mutually agreeable solutions. For example, tenants can negotiate for more time to find an affordable place to live, receive Covid relief funding, secure home repairs contingent upon rent payments, and clear up misunderstanding and miscommunication with landlords. The parties submit self-determined agreements to a Judge for approval, empowering the parties with outcomes that meet their needs and relieving the Courts of time consuming cases. Most importantly, through mediation, vulnerable tenants are more likely to avoid housing instability and homelessness.
MWI is an approved provider of mediation services at 14 District and Municipal Courts: East Boston, South Boston, West Roxbury, Dedham, Dorchester, Hingham, Newton, Plymouth, Quincy, Wrentham, New Bedford, Somerville, Norfolk, and Charlestown. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these services are now offered remotely.
Before the case is heard, the clerk or judge refers appropriate cases directly to one of MWI’s mediation teams. The mediators work with both parties to identify their needs and mediate their efforts to negotiate a mutually beneficial and acceptable solution.
If the plaintiff and defendant come to an agreement in the mediation, they are able to avoid a court hearing and determine the terms of their relationship moving forward. This is the outcome of about 70% of the mediations MWI conducts through this program. Even when the mediation does not result in an agreement, the mediation process allows unrepresented parties to organize their case, receive more information from the other side, and work through their situation with a neutral third party.
The mediators on MWI’s Eviction Mediation Panel are experienced and specially trained in housing and eviction issues. Rather than focusing on positional bargaining between the parties, our mediators help each side identify their interests and needs and generate a range of options which could meet those needs. Mediators work with a case manager to work through difficult cases, and they keep their skills sharp through annual Refresher Mediation Skills Training and monthly Roundtable Seminars at MWI.
MWI has offered free mediation services through our Eviction Mediation Program for over 20 years. Our panel of mediators have mediated over 4,000 cases during that time, serving approximately 13,000 landlords and tenants. MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program Case Manager maintains strong relationships with judges and clerks in the courts we serve, earning their trust and approval of the benefits this program provides.
For More Information
Please contact Diana Chiang, Director of Corporate & Court Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-895-4029.
MWI is grateful to Massachusetts Bar Foundation for their generous support of the Court Mediation Program through its IOLTA Fund Grants
1. Statistics compiled from the Massachusetts Court System FY 2019 Trial Court Statistics, available here.
2. Statistics compiled from the Massachusetts Court System FY 2020 Housing Court Statistics can be found here.
3. 40th Annual Boston Homeless Census. Boston Public Health Commission can be found here.